Uphill push for special session on Vikings stadium

Gov. Dayton and legislative leaders will meet as the challenges for a special session at the State Capitol this year remain daunting.

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Gov. Mark Dayton

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One day after a crucial report on a new Minnesota Vikings stadium in Arden Hills, legislators and state leaders appeared to be making little immediate headway on a special legislative session needed to approve such a project.

Gov. Mark Dayton, who was in Washington, D.C., to attend a meeting at the White House, said "unanswered questions" remain about a new stadium, whether it's built in Arden Hills or in Minneapolis, where the team has played for 29 years.

Dayton said that team owners, who have offered $407 million, "are going to be required to put up ... probably close to a half-billion dollars when all is said and done." He acknowledged that could have some bearing on where the stadium would be built.

"They obviously are only going to do that at a site where they want to be," Dayton said. "That's part of the reality of what we have to deal with."

Vikings spokesman Lester Bagley said Thursday that the team hopes to meet with the governor next week but that no date has been set.

The team has made clear it wants a special session approving the Arden Hills project by the end of this year, but significant hurdles remain. There is still no state funding plan, no clear political roadmap to getting the needed 102 votes at the State Capitol and continued doubts about the sprawling suburban site the Vikings have chosen for a 65,000-seat stadium.

As governor, only Dayton has the authority to call a special session. He has said he will begin meeting with legislators and others next week. Some of those discussions could start earlier. He is to go hunting with House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, at the governor's pheasant opener this weekend.

Inching ahead

Sen. John Howe, R-Red Wing, said he's open to voting on a stadium but said Wednesday's report by the Metropolitan Council assessing Arden Hills inches the project ahead but also provokes more questions. Without a firm location for the stadium, he said, legislators are unlikely to support a funding package.

Howe said the 181-page viability report "raises some concerns." The report determined that the Arden Hills proposal could cost millions of dollars more and take years longer than originally projected.

Howe said he has heard little stirring in his party, which holds a majority in the Senate for the first time in more than a generation, to catapult the issue into a special session.

Meanwhile, the House Taxes Committee chairman, Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, said he would insist on public hearings for any stadium subsidy plan before a special session. "There's a lot of tax implications here," he said Thursday. "I want to hear from the public."

The 2012 legislative session comes in an election year, making it unlikely legislators would take up an issue with such little popular support. Polls have indicated repeatedly that a majority of Minnesotans oppose subsidizing another sports arena. Between the state and Ramsey County, taxpayers would be putting up $650 million of the $1.1 billion project.

To some, the politics at the Capitol concerning a Vikings stadium remains the critical piece to the puzzle. "It's not $200 million or $300 million, it's 34 and 68," said a Republican legislative source. It takes 34 votes in the Senate and 68 votes in the House to pass a bill.

Gambling opponents gather

Even as the Vikings planned the team's next steps, opponents to a possible state funding plan that included gambling were already circling on Thursday.

Citing a new report that shows Minnesota's Indian tribes are the state's sixth-largest employer, largely because of casino gambling, the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association's John McCarthy said using gambling money for a new stadium would reward millionaire Vikings owner Zygi Wilf at the expense of "the poorest people in the state, basically the Indian tribes."

"Every time there's discussion about the Vikings stadium, gambling seems to creep into it," said McCarthy, the group's executive director. But McCarthy said he did not believe there were enough votes at the Capitol, either for a stadium, or a stadium funded with gambling money.

Fitting a Vikings stadium into a special session before the end of the year, McCarthy added, is a big challenge. "That's a lot to jam -- to throw -- at people all at once, without having a lot of public information," he said.

Charlie Weaver, executive director of the Minnesota Business partnership, agreed, and said a special session is a risky venture.

"What you don't want is to call it and fail. The [Minnesota] Twins did that [and] it cost them five years" in their attempt to get a new stadium, Weaver said, recalling the 1996 special session. "If you are going to push for a special session, you've got to be dang sure you are going to pass it. ... It may just be tough, regardless of those political considerations. Not impossible but tough."

Staff writer Kevin Diaz also contributed to this report. Mike Kaszuba • 651-222-1673

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