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Vikings stadium bill faces uphill struggle

ST. PAUL - Minnesota Vikings stadium-construction bills introduced Monday faces numerous committee hearings and likely many changes before they are ready for full House and Senate votes.

If they get that far.

Several provisions that raise taxes, particularly one that adds a surcharge to player salaries, already are drawing Republican lawmakers' opposition.

Also questioned is the possibility of providing funding for a thriving professional sports team during a legislative session in which lawmakers likely will cut government jobs and health-care programs for the poor, disabled and elderly.

"It strikes me as a moral issue," said Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville.

The assistant Senate majority leader said that he does not believe in raising local sales taxes without a referendum and he does not think the Minnesota Vikings deserve preferential treatment.

"I cannot imagine a package I would be supportive of," said Thompson, one of many freshman lawmakers elected on platforms that included promises to keep taxes down.

House Tax Chairman Greg Davids, R-Preston, said he will keep an open mind about most of the bills, but he has been fighting all year against tax increase proposals by Gov. Mark Dayton.

Davids said he even opposes raising taxes on well-compensated professional athletes.

Davids credited Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, and Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, for bringing the bills forward and he said he is more open-minded about other funding options in the bill, such as allowing a local community partner to raise sales taxes to help pay a portion of a stadium.

A provision requiring the team to cover at least a third of the stadium cost "seems somewhat reasonable," Davids said.

Davids, other lawmakers and Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley said the bills provide a good framework on which to start discussions.

As expected, the bills would authorize a 10 percent tax at the wholesale level on sports memorabilia statewide and implement a 5 percent surcharge on player salaries. They also would allow a stadium-related lottery game to help with the state's commitment, which would not exceed $300 million.

The bills do not specify a local partner for the Vikings, but call on interested local governments to submit proposals specifying a location, a mode of financing and a list of amenities and improvements offered to the team and the Minnesota Stadium Authority, which would be created to manage the venue.

House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, has said he needs to see a stadium location and a local government partner before supporting a Vikings bill.

Sen. Doug Magnus, R-Slayton, said as long as a Vikings stadium comes with a roof he is willing to keep an open mind on financing options.

"Anything else in there is up for negotiation," Magnus said, adding that the bills likely will change dramatically in the coming weeks.

"I think everyone agrees the Metrodome is not a long-term solution," said Magnus, who co-signed the Senate bill. "We have got to step up and put together the best plan we can."

Lanning acknowledged the bill faces challenges: "This is a long way from being a slam dunk, but if we do not get started on this now, there will be no hope whatsoever."

The Vikings' Metrodome lease expires after next season.

The bills have supporters among Republicans and Democrats and from both rural and urban areas.

Reps. Michael Nelson, DFL-Brooklyn Park, and John Kriesel, R-Cottage Grove, said they co-signed the House bill because the said it will create jobs for trade workers struggling with unemployment.

Kriesel said the taxes involved with the bill, particularly on sports memorabilia, are voluntary and imposed only on those who buy jerseys and other sports-related products.

"Those are people who are Vikings fans," said Kriesel, who adds that he has bought several jerseys for his own children. "I don't have a problem paying a little more for those jerseys."

Andrew Tellijohn is a Twin Cities freelance writer.