District 19A representative Joe McDonald of Delano explains his ‘no’ vote on the Vikings Stadium bill
By Matt Kane
DELANO An approval vote from the Minneapolis City Council Friday, May 25, will grant the Minnesota Vikings and their fans the new stadium they have been begging Minnesota lawmakers for for years.
To put the stadium issue in football terms, the Vikings are on the opponent’s goal line, ready to score the game-winning, and possibly franchise-saving, touchdown.
The long-debated bill passed through the Minnesota House in the early-morning hours of May 10, and the Senate gave the bill its approval later that day. Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton signed off on the bill May 14, under the watchful eyes of the main benefactor of the legislation, Vikings owner Zygi Wilf.
One of the votes in the process may have drawn more interest than the others from residents in the Delano area the vote of District 19A Representative Joe McDonald (R).
That vote: “no.”
McDonald was one of 60 representatives to vote “no” on the stadium bill (the bill passed with 71 “yes” votes).He has spent the weeks since answering e-mails from Wright County residents who are curious as to why he voted the way he did.
“I’ve been working on this for two years talking to constituents and delegates. Many wanted the stadium, but thought the Wilfs should put more money into it,” McDonald explained. Two-to-one, they said, ‘Joe we don’t support the bill as it is.’
“Many said they wanted me to support it, but they were out-numbered 2-to-1. In end, I have to listen to the people who elected me. The message was overwhelming that they didn’t support the bill the way it was.”
McDonald vows his vote of “no” was based solely on the wants of his voters, and had nothing to do with the upcoming elections in November or party affiliation.
“You don’t want a politician in there who votes for his own interests. Believe me, it would have been much easier to vote ‘yes,’” said McDonald. “I had to think about not just me. I represent 49,000 people in Wright County. Bruce Anderson and I discussed what was the right thing to do.”
Anderson, McDonald’s fellow District 19A representative, also voted “no.”
McDonald said his decision wasn’t easy.
“Being a Vikings fan who has a sister-in-law who works for the team, it was a tough vote for me,” he said. “For some, it was an easy vote ‘yes,’ and for some, an easy vote ‘no,’ but some of us were conflicted.”
In saying that, McDonald would not change his vote.
“To be honest, if I don’t get reelected because of this, I’m perfectly happy with my decision,” he said. “I will be happy to return to my studio in Delano and make more money.”
Funding was the biggest issue with the stadium, and that concern prompted McDonald to vote the way he did.
“The funding for it is very shaky,” McDonald explained. “Many across the board were skeptical about the funding source.”
The State of Minnesota is responsible for $348 million of the $975 million stadium.
The State plans to fund its portion of the cost with electronic pulltabs. That has McDonald worried.
“Nowhere in the nation has electronic pull tabs been done,” he said. “Gambling will have to increase 280 percent to pay back the bond, but there is no guarantee that kind of money will come in.”
If the electronic pulltabs do not create enough revenue to cover the state’s annual portion, the money will come from somewhere else, McDonald noted.
“Each year, that bond has to be paid off right off the top and that goes in the general fund,” McDonald explained. “If the gambling money doesn’t come in, the money comes right off the top, and that money comes from health and human services, schools, higher education, and transportation.”
McDonald’s preference for funding the state’s portion of the cost was racino, which combines horse racing with casino gaming.
“I was a supporter of racino, and was a co-author of the racino proposal,” he said. “It’s a safe expansion of gambling for the state. It would have brought in more than enough for the stadium and schools, and it would have helped Canterbury Park and the horse industry in Wright County, which is huge.”
McDonald said he was also on board with allowing the White Earth National to open a casino in the Twin Cities, an entity that would have paid off the state’s portion of the deal and given $250 million to the state’s general fund.
“That’s one of the poorest tribes in the state, and that would have helped them immensely,” McDonald said.
A surprise ‘yes’ vote
McDonald admitted he was surprised by the “yes” vote on the stadium bill from Senator Amy Koch, who represents the same area as McDonald.
“That surprised me because she said she was voting ‘no,’ McDonald said. “It was a safe vote for someone who is not up for re-election.”
Vowing his support
Now that the stadium bill is all but a done deal, McDonald will again let the Vikings fan in him come out, and he will visit the new stadium for a Vikings game after it opens in 2016.
“We don’t go to Vikings games that often, but, when the stadium is up, I will go to a game and support it,” he said. “Now that it’s passed, I will have to pull a couple tabs to help the general fund.”