Ever since the Vikings held a hastily-prepared press conference in a field near the proposed site for a new Vikings stadium in Arden Hills, the opposition forces have created a mine field that the Wilf family and the Vikings organization have had to tip-toe across.
If we hit the rewind button on the stadium issue back to before that idyllic day when face-painted Vikings fans danced joyfully like Leprechauns (ah, timing) in that tumbleweed-laden field that use to manufacture weapons of minimal destruction, Gov. Mark Dayton had laid out one simple but daunting premise – find a local partner for a stadium, cover 70 percent of the stadium cost, put a roof on it so others can use it and the state will kick in $300 million.
It's unknown whether Dayton believed it could be done or not – he threw the Mondale name recognition toward the project in hopes of winning over fickle fence-riding legislators, but, given his consistent hostage look at any press conference that includes legislators, he doesn't come across as a strong leader. More accurately, he has the look of a man who ate bad shellfish three hours earlier. However, his mandate remained the same: Put the other players together and $300 million is waiting for you from the state. If the stadium costs $900 million, there is $300 million waiting. If the stadium costs $1.3 billion, there is $300 million waiting.
A forceful governor would broker the deal and, while allowing opponents to express their misgivings, the pledge to back one of their pet projects would suffice to get the job done. Like it or not, that's how politics works in this country and in this state. However, this governor seems to allow two-bit legislators from one-horse towns to push him around and set the political agenda and landscape to the future. On his watch, the state shut down because he couldn't broker a deal to keep parks and rest areas open – not to mention letting state employees learn the hard way that they were "non-essential." That will leave a mark. Should we expect any more forcefulness when it comes to a Vikings stadium?
On Friday, a stadium plan came out of committee. It wasn't the plan sponsored by Sen. Julie Rosen that most Vikings fans are familiar with – the Metrodome slow-speed demolition and replacement project. It was a piece of legislation (a piece of something anyway) sponsored by Sen. Roger Chamberlain, the pride of Lino Lakes.
Chamberlain, a political wordsmith, authored a bill that made it through the Senate Committee on Commerce and Consumer Protection (I'm a big fan of their work over the years) by an 8-5 vote. While Sen. Rosen's bill has stalled in committee, this one has made it through.
Chamberlain's original bill called for phasing out business property taxes statewide (as one can imagine, Chamberlain is a Republican), but, prior to the vote, he backed off that stance and amended the bill to focus more on the state contribution to a Vikings stadium without the archaic no-tax provision. His plan calls for the stadium be funded and operated with no state help, continuing the 50-year process of limited to no state money being spent to build stadiums.
His myopic belief is that naming rights, user fees, parking revenue and private businesses (which one can only assume wouldn't be taxed in Chamberlain's utopian societal vision) would foot the tab for the stadium. The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Taxes, which hopefully will have the good sense to stop the bill before it gains any momentum.
While the bill comes as a surprise, it would seem we've come to the point in the stadium debate where nothing should be a surprise. Since when does a state pass a bill into law essentially saying, "We're going to do nothing?" It doesn't make sense. Laws are supposed to enact action, not inaction. They don't need a law to do nothing. They can simply vote "no" on a legitimate stadium plan.
If our founding fathers had people like Chamberlain looking after the interests of its people, we would have British monarchs on our money. If they had people like Dayton calling the shots, residents of what would be known as West Britain would have paid for cleaning up the tea out of Boston Harbor. At a time when the Vikings and their millions of fans need someone in the corridors of political power to champion the cause and get a stadium bill done, all we seemingly are offered are Benedict Arnold and Chicken Little.
If sanity prevails, a tall order when it comes to the Minnesota Legislature, the call to inaction by Chamberlain will die on the vine in committee and a viable stadium bill can be addressed and voted up or down on its own merits.
The irony of Chamberlain's bill is that, in the end, it may very well accomplish his mission. The Vikings will play the next 30 years in a stadium that is privately funded, owned and operated. Unfortunately for Vikings fans, that stadium won't be in Minnesota.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.