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Gov. Mark Dayton said he wants a special session of the Legislature just before Thanksgiving to reach a final verdict on whether the Minnesota Vikings get a new, publicly subsidized stadium.
Raising the stakes on a long-running, divisive issue, the DFL governor gave Minnesota's political, civic and business leaders five weeks to determine where the project should be built, whether voters facing a sales tax increase should have a referendum and how the state's $300 million toward the stadium should be financed. Dayton said the stadium deal could still be a work in progress when legislators begin meeting, a move that could make a special session a politically explosive drama.
"Most of what I hear is what everyone's against. ... It has to be what people are for," said Dayton, after meeting with legislative leaders Monday. He again left open the possibility that the $1.1 billion project could be built in Minneapolis, where the team has played since 1982, rather than Ramsey County's Arden Hills, the Vikings' owners' clear choice for the new home.
Republicans, who hold Legislative majorities, were tepid about the rush to approve a public subsidy package for the Vikings. Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch of Buffalo and House Speaker Kurt Zellers, Maple Grove, said the one-hour meeting with Dayton largely explored stadium issues that had been debated before.
The day's events provided a study in contrasts. Dayton took an aggressively pro-stadium stance, pledging to "meet with everybody and everyone" to get the deal done, and "take the lead in terms of negotiations" with the National Football League and the Vikings. Koch said she generally supported having the Vikings remain in Minnesota but joined the Dayton meeting Monday just "for the discussion."
Earlier in the day a Republican Senate spokesman said there were not enough GOP votes in the Senate for a Vikings stadium plan.
Meanwhile, a new poll by a conservative, anti-tax group showed again that Minnesotans are overwhelmingly opposed to tax subsidies for a new stadium. John Cooney, the state director of Americans for Prosperity-Minnesota, said that "today, it is clear that Minnesotans oppose this reckless spending of their hard-earned taxpayer dollars."
There were also signs Monday that a petition drive is gaining steam to force a referendum in Ramsey County on a half-percent sales tax increase for the project. Stadium backers said a referendum could be fatal.
Dayton suggested that a special session could begin Nov. 21 and end the day before Thanksgiving. But he said he would not call lawmakers back until Republican and DFL legislators agreed to limit the scope of what could be addressed.
Only governors can call the Legislature into special session. Once lawmakers are back, they control their agenda and have sole power to end the sessions.
The Vikings spent the day trying to ride the momentum from Dayton's announcement.
Team spokesman Lester Bagley said the Vikings' construction company assured the team that if legislators approve a public subsidy package in November an Arden Hills stadium would be ready by 2015.
"We believe it is aggressive," said Bagley, the team's vice president of stadium development and public affairs. "But it's achievable."
Last week, a study by the Metropolitan Council said that multiple issues regarding the Arden Hills site, including cleaning up a former U.S. Army ammunition plant location, made a 2015 completion date "unrealistic."
Bagley, nonetheless, said the draft legislation for a special session was 90 percent complete, and would specify the project be built in Ramsey County's Arden Hills. But, he said, much work was left.
"Do we have the votes for it? It's a different question if the source is racino, or a jersey tax or [state] bonding," said Bagley, referring to several possible state funding sources.
Under a tentative agreement announced last spring by the Vikings and Ramsey County, the team would contribute at least $407 million to the stadium, Ramsey County would fund $350 million, largely through a countywide sales tax increase, and the state would add $300 million. Bagley said Monday that after the state and county's combined $650 million for the project "essentially the team is in for the rest," including cost overruns.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, urged lawmakers to immediately begin hearings on the plan. There have been no state Capitol hearings this year on the stadium project.
Dayton hopes his call for special session will change that.
"One of the reasons I am setting a deadline is that it forces a decision ... and accountability," he said.
Many lawmakers remain torn. Sen. Benjamin Kruse, R-Brooklyn Park, said he is an enthusiastic Vikings fan but said the still-struggling economy gives him pause about the new stadium.
"Folks are having a tough time staying in their homes," said Kruse, who works in real estate. Given that, Kruse said, he is "not quite as panicked as most folks might be" about getting the Vikings a new home.
Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, said he is unlikely to vote for a Vikings stadium package. Minnesotans are also largely against any deal, he said, but fear the Vikings will likely still get their new home.
"I think the public has earned their right to be cynical," he said.
Staff writer Baird Helgeson contributed to this article. Mike Kaszuba • 651-222-1673