Benson fights the use of gambling money for Vikings stadium
ST. PAUL — A Rochester Republican is leading the charge against a plan to use electronic pull tabs to help pay for a new Minnesota Vikings stadium.
Rep. Mike Benson, of Rochester, and Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, scheduled a news conference on Thursday morning to speak against the use of gambling funds.
"I support the Vikings. I want to build a stadium. I just don’t want to do it on the backs of compulsive gamblers," Benson said.
He plans to put forward his own proposal to fund the state’s $400 million share of the stadium cost. It would rely on tax increases on sports memorabilia, tickets, game day parking and luxury suites. Benson said his proposal would supply a much more reliable source of funding as opposed to electronic pull tabs, which no other state has tried.
"There is no guarantee (with electronic pull tabs) and we could end up taking money out of the general fund, which certainly means we’re robbing Peter to pay Paul," he said. "We’re not going to have money for schools and hospitals and all the other things."
The fast-moving Vikings stadium bill hit a speed bump on Wednesday when the Senate Finance Committee added racinos as a funding source for the stadium. Bill sponsor Julie Rosen warned the committee that the racinos amendment could kill the proposal. It now heads to the Senate Taxes Committee. Meanwhile, a different stadium bill is awaiting a vote of the House.
Several local lawmakers on both sides of the aisle said they have serious concerns about relying on electronic pull tabs to fund the stadium.
"It’s a tremendous expansion of gambling, and the assumptions underlying it about what money we get are very, very shaky," said Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester.
Backers of the plan note that a fiscal analysis of the electronic pull tabs proposal estimated it would generate two and half times the amount of money needed to make the state’s debt payments for a stadium. Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, said she believes it is inaccurate to refer to electronic pull tabs as an expansion of gambling because it is modernizing an existing form of gambling. She said the plan would help charities that rely on pull tabs to raise additional money for their worthy causes.
"I’ll be looking at how we can ensure that the Vikings stay here," she said. "At the same time, it has to be something that is good for Minnesota and Minnesotans."
Byron Republican Rep. Duane Quam said he shares Benson’s concerns about relying on an untested revenue source for the stadium.
"Beyond the issue of whether we should be funding projects with gambling proceeds, there is an issue of stability, and the numbers are just shaky and fuzzy," he said.
Quam said he is open to Benson’s idea of taxing items that would only affect stadium users. He noted that many Vikings fans are telling him they are willing to help pay for the stadium.
Austin DFL Rep. Jeanne Poppe shares others' concerns about electronic pull tabs as a reliable funding source. But she said she is not interested in talking about raising taxes just for a stadium.
"I think the minute we start talking about taxes, we need to be talking about taxes for the good of a lot of things — whether it’s health care, education (or) lower tuition on higher education," Poppe said.