House speaker in no hurry for vote on Vikings stadium

  • Article by: MIKE KASZUBA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 17, 2012 - 2:32 AM

With an important legislative deadline having passed Friday, House Speaker Kurt Zellers remained unclear whether he would give the project a necessary procedural exemption to keep it alive at the State Capitol.

Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Zellers ended Friday the way he began it -- vague on how much he would do to help a plan for a new Minnesota Vikings stadium.

With an important legislative deadline having passed Friday, the Republican House leader remained unclear whether he would give the project a necessary procedural exemption to keep it alive at the State Capitol.

At one point Friday, Zellers was asked whether he could recall major legislation passing without the support of a House speaker. "I can't think of anything off the top of my head, but I'm sure there has been," he said.

By late Friday, a spokesman said Zellers would have no further comment.

The project was left in precarious political limbo, with lawmakers aiming to adjourn in just over a month. After a highly anticipated release of the stadium deal a week ago, no legislative committee has approved the plan and there are no hearings set.

Though the $975 million stadium project can still be revived, Zellers at some point will likely be needed to give it special assistance. The five-term Maple Grove legislator had earlier said he would not grant the project any special favors.

Zellers said the stadium proposal is seriously flawed, but he added it was "way too early" to declare the project politically dead at the Capitol this year. "You cannot rush something this detailed and this intricate through in a short amount of time," he said. "We will not leave here with a bad deal for the taxpayers."

Vikings spokesman Lester Bagley said the team was working to address the plan's sticking points and was assuming the project would move forward. "Our expectation is that the process will continue next week," said Bagley, the team's vice president of stadium development and public affairs.

By most measures, it was not a good week politically for the Vikings stadium.

On Wednesday, a Senate panel gave the stadium's public subsidy package its first Capitol hearing. But the committee abruptly decided against voting when it became clear there were not enough votes on the 14-member panel to pass it. Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said the voting fell apart when just three of the panel's eight Republicans, who hold a majority in the Senate but have been lukewarm to the stadium, pledged to vote for it.

There were other problems even before the Senate hearing. Republicans have been adamant that the plan not use state money directly. So they were dismayed to learn tax dollars were on the hook if the proposed expansion of electronic bingo and pulltabs weren't enough to pay the state's $398 million share.

The stadium project would be built at the site of the Metrodome in downtown Minneapolis, where the team has played since 1982. The project would be built with $427 million from the Vikings, $398 million from the state and $150 million from the city. In addition, the team would contribute $327 million and the city another $189 million in operational costs.

Other legislators said a lack of political support from the Minneapolis City Council -- a majority of the council is reportedly against the project -- was also stalling the stadium at the Capitol.

Even Bagley on Friday acknowledged the road ahead is a challenging one.

"If it's not going to get 68 votes [in the House], then there are major issues," he said.

Because no legislative panel had approved the project by Friday, the stadium will need a special exemption in the House and Senate to proceed. While Senate Majority Leader David Senjem, R-Rochester, has indicated he will grant the exemption, Zellers has not.

Bakk, meanwhile, said other procedural moves at the Capitol could be used to keep the project alive -- including swapping it out for a stadium-related proposal that did get preliminary approval Friday. That plan, by Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, takes a dramatically different approach to funding a Vikings stadium and would limit a state contribution to a $300 million loan.

Though he conceded such a political maneuver could be done, Chamberlain said Friday he was not a fan of it. "My bill is substantially different," he said.

Mike Kaszuba • 651-222-1673

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