Stadium talks at standstill

Stadium negotiations
Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo and Republican House Speaker Kurt Zellers speak to reporters at the State Capitol, Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2011. Zellers threw a wrench into stadium talks when he sent an email to his GOP colleagues saying he opposes the governor's plan to call a special session before Thanksgiving.
MPR Photo/ Tim Nelson

Efforts to reach an agreement on a new stadium for the Minnesota Vikings appear to be done for the year.

Gov. Mark Dayton said his push for a new stadium is now "in limbo" and that legislative leaders have no appetite to settle the issue before the team's lease expires at the Metrodome.

The announcement came Wednesday after Republican House Speaker Kurt Zellers said he would oppose a special session.

The governor and legislative leaders met privately for an hour to discuss the stadium situation. Afterward, Dayton said lawmakers rejected his proposal to call a special session later this month. Dayton said it's now up to the 201 members of the Legislature to come up with their own stadium plan.

"It takes, in this case, 202 to tango and I can't do this by myself," Dayton said. "I don't have any votes in the Legislature so it's obviously their prerogative."

Dayton planned to release his own stadium proposal next week. He won't do that now for fear it will just "get beat up." The governor hoped lawmakers could work off of his proposal and pass it during a special session the week of November 21st — a deadline that almost certainly won't be met.

The governor criticized legislators who complained about the available stadium options but failed to put forward their own plan. Dayton said there are two kinds of people — those who have excuses and those who don't need them."

"I wanted to deal with it head on, straight on, have an up or down vote, have an honest debate. If they wanted another week, fine. But let's bring it to a head. The same decisions are going to be here six months from now and it's just going to be a more expensive project."

Dayton said he is disappointed because he felt he and lawmakers were on track to resolve the issue. But on Wednesday morning Dayton was alerted to an email Zellers sent to GOP House members. In it, Zellers clearly ruled out a special session to deal with the Vikings stadium and said he repeatedly told Dayton that. Dayton and others say they were surprised by Zellers' email and suggested that position wasn't clear in earlier private meetings. Zellers sidestepped several questions regarding his earlier statements on a special session, and said the email he sent was "private" and that there is no stadium proposal for lawmakers to consider.

"Until we see a plan, how do you say, yes, I'll support this or I'll vote for it? That's what our members, the 201 of us, are all looking at us saying 'What are we going to vote on?" Zellers said. "Is there going to be a bill formed? Can we have a committee hearing to at least have the options explained to us."

Both Zellers and GOP Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch said they intend to hold committee hearings in hope of writing a bill that can be supported by members of both parties. Koch wouldn't say when the hearings will happen.

"The speaker and I are going to reach out to our chairs and have a discussion on holding some public hearings on all of these options. As you know there is a great array of things that have been put on the table; the different sites now and the different funding options," Koch said. "I think it's important for the public to have some time to weigh in on that."

DFL Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk said he's pleased to see Republican leaders announce the hearings, but that they also need to come forward with a plan to focus the debate.

"At some point in this public hearing process, you have to be able to drill down into the specifics of the bill. You need a document to look at," Bakk said. "It seems to me that if we're going to make any headway here, the leaders are going to have to enable the bill authors to actually put the language together, put a draft bill together — a document we can put on the table in front of a committee that committee members of the Legislature can dissect."

That plan will also have to be acceptable to the Minnesota Vikings. A spokesman for the Vikings released on a statement that said the team is concerned and disappointed by Wednesday's events. The statement said the team has 90 days left before its lease in the Metrodome expires and there is urgency to act.

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