Legislators whip Vikings stadium bill into shape

  • Article by: MIKE KASZUBA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 8, 2012 - 11:01 PM

Senate GOP, DFL leaders have signed on as sponsors, and there is talk of hearings next week.

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Site of proposed Vikings stadium near the Metrodome.

Photo: Richard Sennott, Star Tribune

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The push for a new Minnesota Vikings stadium hit a higher gear Thursday at the State Capitol, as the project's legislation was finalized and supporters talked of holding hearings next week.

With lobbyists for the Minnesota Vikings hovering in the Capitol hallways, stadium proponents received a boost when the chief Senate author said that Senate Majority Leader David Senjem and Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk would be co-sponsors of the proposal.

Gov. Mark Dayton also announced he would begin his own high-profile lobbying Friday by visiting key legislative leaders and conducting radio interviews.

Rep. Joe Hoppe, chairman of the House Commerce and Regulatory Reform Committee, said he was cautiously optimistic that the $975 million stadium to be built adjacent to the Metrodome would win legislative approval. He said the project could get its first House hearing before his panel Thursday. Hoppe said his committee would focus primarily on the state's $398 million contribution to the project -- funded by authorizing electronic pulltabs in bars and restaurants -- and not debate the stadium's overall merits.

"We're going to look very narrowly at just the gaming, and I think it'll probably be OK," said Hoppe, R-Chaska. He said the stadium legislation, which is expected to be made public Friday and be heard by four House panels, would be more fully aired in other committees.

According to a preliminary agreement announced a week ago, the stadium budget also would include $427 million from the Vikings and $150 million from Minneapolis.

Dayton's most important stadium meeting Friday likely will be with House Speaker Kurt Zellers, whose support would be a major boost for the plan. Zellers has been vague on how much he will do to push the stadium, and there are doubts the project can win approval without his help.

"I think you'll see some movement through some committees, but I don't think Kurt Zellers will have a vote on the floor of the Minnesota House this year," said Rep. Ann Lenczewski, DFL-Bloomington, the ranking DFLer on the House Taxes Committee.

Lenczewski, an opponent of public subsidies for stadiums, said Zellers wants to make sure Republicans hold onto their House majority in an election year.

Rep. John Kriesel, R-Cottage Grove, a co-author of the Vikings stadium legislation, conceded that top House Republican leaders were not leading the stadium drive but downplayed their importance, saying it will also need many DFL votes.

"If it's on our [House Republican] caucus only to get it passed, to get enough votes, then it's not going to pass," he said.

Time pressure mounting

Kriesel also pointed to another potential problem: Meeting the goal of Republican leaders to adjourn in mid- to late April while also accommodating inevitable pressure to make changes to the stadium plan as it winds its way through the Legislature.

"It's a start," Kriesel said of the stadium legislation's language being made public. "I think we all know that it's going to look much different at the end than it does now -- or there's a chance" of that.

Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, an assistant Senate majority leader, met with Dayton earlier this week to discuss his own plan to essentially limit any Vikings stadium subsidy to a state loan. Chamberlain also said he told the governor it would be "very difficult" to get Senate approval for a stadium funded with gambling money.

Bakk, the Senate minority leader, has said he would pledge 12 DFL votes toward a Vikings stadium, meaning the Senate Republican majority would need to produce 22 votes for the project to win Senate approval.

Are there 22 Senate Republican votes, Chamberlain was asked. "I do not think so."

Staff writer Rachel E. Stassen-Berger contributed to this report. Mike Kaszuba • 651-222-1673

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