The legislative proposal for a new Minnesota Vikings stadium is already showing signs that it will push deadlines as well as emotional buttons at the State Capitol.
The plan is not likely to get its first House hearing until at least April 26 -- after legislators return from an Easter break -- leaving less than a month before the Legislature's scheduled adjournment, according to Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, who formally introduced the legislation Monday.
Lanning, however, said he remained confident that there would be enough time to fully air the controversial proposal and that the wait was necessary.
"There's no way we could have -- or should have -- gotten a hearing before dealing with the budgets," said Lanning, referring to a series of Republican House and Senate budget bills that were adopted last week as part of an aggressive agenda to slice the state's $5.1 billion budget deficit. "We had to get through that."
But that wait also means the Vikings will have a steep hill to climb.
Legislators approved taxpayer subsidies for Target Field, the new home of the Minnesota Twins, in the waning hours of the 2006 session, but only after weeks of discussion and debate, including lengthy public hearings.
By April 22 of that year, the Twins' plan to have Hennepin County levy a countywide sales tax had already been approved by three critical House panels. One of the meetings, held in a school auditorium to accommodate a vocal crowd estimated at 700, led to a razor-thin 15-13 approval by the House Taxes Committee. The next day, the ballpark plan passed another crucial legislative test, but only after a nearly seven-hour hearing.
By that time, the Twins' plan to partner with Hennepin County had also been known -- and dissected -- for a year.
In contrast, the Vikings do not have a local government partner -- or even a site.
"We're in discussions to try to make those things happen," said Lester Bagley, the Vikings' vice president for public affairs and stadium development. Although Bagley said the team hoped to announce a local government partner and a site before the Legislature adjourns May 23, he said the negotiations were "difficult and complicated, and you can't force them." He said that while the team opposed some of the legislation's features, such as taxing luxury suites, the plan "provides a workable framework."
The stadium plan would have the state contribute as much as $300 million through a series of new taxes and fees, and revenue from the stadium's naming rights. The team and a local government would contribute the other two-thirds of the stadium's cost, with the latest total price tag estimated at just under $900 million.
Rep. Mike Nelson, DFL-Brooklyn Park, a House co-author of the Vikings stadium bill this year, said he was concerned about the proposal's late start. He said that the timing of last year's Vikings stadium legislation, which was not introduced until May 4 and went down in defeat before a House panel just two days later, "was a mistake."
Nelson, who chaired a House panel that passed the Vikings stadium plan last year, said DFL leaders wanted to wait until after the Legislature staked out its budget position and DFLers and Republicans had also both held their party's gubernatorial endorsing conventions.
"It might be the same mistake bringing it in this late [again]," Nelson said Monday. "They should have put it in in the beginning of the session [January], let it sit there, let people scream and holler about it."
Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, said he was worried that the proposal's late introduction would lead to an even more troubling scenario: an 11th-hour attempt to push it through with limited public scrutiny.
"I think time is clearly running out," said Hornstein, who opposes the plan. "My concern is that there will be an effort very late to try to push it through."
Mike Kaszuba • 651-222-1673