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In a stunning turn, Republican legislators ditched their last-minute Minnesota Vikings stadium proposal Thursday and scheduled a decisive floor vote on the issue for Monday.
In announcing the vote, House Speaker Kurt Zellers for the first time said he would not support the plan that one of his own members has worked on for months and would not ask others to support it. Instead, Zellers said it is up to DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and the Vikings to secure the votes needed to build a stadium.
The alternative Republican plan that would have relied on long-term borrowing to pay for the stadium survived barely days before it was judged unworkable.
Republicans said Monday's vote will be on the plan crafted by Dayton, key GOP legislators and the Vikings. In a grim assessment, Zellers said, "I don't know that there are the votes in the Republican caucus, or the votes [overall], at this point."
The decision to have the full Legislature vote appears to bring the months-long stadium fight to a head, with the outcome uncertain. And it sets in motion a fierce lobbying push by the Vikings, Dayton and business groups who support the bill.
"Now everyone will be able to hold legislators accountable for that momentous decision," Dayton said on Thursday.
In a sign of the unease over the potential fallout from the vote, Zellers said on KFAN radio that while he would not vote for the bill, he wants a stadium and doesn't want to see the Vikings leave. He added that he wouldn't try to persuade other Republicans to vote against it.
But Dayton spokesman Bob Hume said the opposition of Zellers -- who holds what is widely considered the second-most-powerful position in the state -- is a serious blow.
"His opposition to the bill can only be seen as influencing his caucus to oppose what could be our best chance to create jobs this session," Hume said.
Sen. Julie Rosen, chief author of the stadium proposal, said in a statement that the bill is the product of 18 months of bipartisan work and five Senate hearings. It remains, she said, "the best and most thorough plan for the state of Minnesota."
Minnesotans, she said, "are telling me that they want a stadium ... a first-class facility that not only will be the home of our beloved Vikings for generations, but also a stadium that is used by the entire state ... that will attract a Super Bowl, Final Four and provide opportunities for amateur sports, high school sporting events and other organizations."
It was only Tuesday morning -- one day after they had planned to adjourn -- that Republican leaders rolled out a new, stripped-down plan that featured a roofless stadium and general obligation bonds to pay the state's share of bare infrastructure costs.
By the next day, leaders added a roof back to the plan. On Thursday, they learned that selling 20-year bonds would have limited the team's lease to just 15 years, dismantling other crucial parts of the complex agreement.
"We do not want to bring something forward that will not stand the test of scrutiny," said House Majority Leader Matt Dean, R-Dellwood.
That leaves the Dayton-backed plan as the only option. Legislators have snagged for months on a provision that would allow electronic pulltabs and sports-themed tip-boards in bars and restaurants as a means of raising money to pay the state's share of the stadium. The provision united a strong, bipartisan bloc of legislators who either reject expanded gambling or who are skeptical of the revenue projections.
Another new plan appeared to emerge Thursday that replaced gambling expansion with stadium user fees on everything from tickets to concession sales, luxury suites, stadium naming rights, television advertising agreements and more.
The user fees would, according to initial estimates, start at just under 10 percent and increase over time. They would apply to every event in the stadium, whether a Vikings game, a home remodeling show or a high school football tournament.
Vikings spokesman Lester Bagley called the proposal "unacceptable," saying it would cut the team's stadium revenue and shift more than $30 million a year of costs from the state to the team.
"It is a false promise and is not a vote to resolve the issue," said Bagley, the team's vice president for stadium development and public affairs.
Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook, said he won't vote for the current stadium proposal but might be swayed by a plan based on user fees.
"The people who use and benefit from the stadium should have some skin in the game," Skoe said. Of the current proposal, he said, "where's the connection between the users of the stadium and the people in Clearbrook who buy pulltabs?"
Rosen said she could see user fees playing some part in a final stadium deal.
"There might be some we could adopt," she said, although she declined to elaborate.
Rosen added that she was close to having enough votes in the Senate. "We have movement on the votes, absolutely," she said.
Even the best legislative vote counters are unsure of the final tally.
Dayton will spend the next few days talking to undecided legislators and taking his case to sports talk radio. He has urged Minnesotans to pepper their elected representatives with phone calls and e-mails.
Business groups are also working behind the scenes to get a stadium plan through the Legislature.
"The Vikings stadium is like the cloud over 'Pig-Pen,'" Minnesota Chamber of Commerce President David Olson said of the hapless "Peanuts" comic strip character. "Everybody's talking about it, so let's figure out a way and put a deal together."
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