Lawmakers Want to Use Stadium Reserve Funds to Build Housing for Veterans

April 18, 2018 07:25 PM

Some Republican members in the Minnesota House say "excess reserve" funds dedicated to paying off bonds for U.S. Bank Stadium should be re-purposed to help build three new veterans homes in the state.

"I can't think of a better use of the people's stadium money (then) to go toward the people's veterans homes," Rep. Sarah Anderson, R-Plymouth, said at a State Capitol news conference Wednesday.

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Anderson is chair of the State Government Finance Committee, and plans to include the plan in an omnibus finance bill.

U.S. Bank Stadium, home to the Minnesota Vikings, cost $1.1 billion.

The state's portion of that total is $348 million, which is largely financed through proceeds from charitable gambling like paper and electronic pull tabs.

Those proceeds originally didn't keep up with projections, but they have been soaring now that the economy has improved.

"Rather than have that money just sitting idle, I think this is a good priority for the money to be used," Anderson said of the plan to use $26 million to help pay the state's share of the homes.

The stadium fund now has $58 million in "excess reserves," and that figure is likely to grow to $120 million by 2021.

Republicans said that is money above and beyond what's needed to make bond payments on the state's portion of the stadium.

"The young veterans are watching us," said Rep. Bob Dettmer, R-Forest Lake, also a military veteran. "They're watching how we are treating our veterans today."

Dettmer said the money could help build veterans homes in Preston, Montevideo and Bemidji. 

They would be in addition to homes already located in Minneapolis, Luverne, Hastings, Fergus Falls and Silver Bay.

"The statistics bear out that southeastern Minnesota is greatly underserved for veterans and veterans homes," says Ron Scheevel, a Vietnam veteran who supports building a home in Preston.

However, there is significant opposition to using money from the stadium reserve fund.

"Veterans homes are important…but this is re-opening the stadium financing deal and that's what concerns us," Vikings Vice President for Public Affairs Lester Bagley said.

Bagley was at the Capitol Wednesday, talking to lawmakers about the plan.

He said there might be a time when the fund can be considered for other uses, but it's too soon to consider that now.

"The building has only been open two years…and we need to protect the asset and have a broader discussion about the reserve fund," Bagley said.

He's concerned about what might happen if there is an economic downturn.

Governor Mark Dayton is also skeptical.

He pointed out that the $26 million dollars would only help build the veterans homes.

It would cost much more to operate them.

"It's about $10 million dollars a year to operate one of these (veterans homes), so we're talking about a $30-million dollar-a-year expenditure for operations," Dayton told reporters. "

Then they need to come up with (that) money. Otherwise it's just a political gimmick."

Dayton said if the veterans homes are going to be built, the money could come from a bonding bill meant for construction projects.

Credits

Tom Hauser

Copyright 2018 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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