Stalled Vikings stadium bill gets new lease on life

A bipartisan group of lawmakers is working to revive the Vikings stadium issue. Several lawmakers who support a publicly-subsidized stadium met privately with Gov. Mark Dayton today and said they will present a bill soon that they hope will pass in a special session this year.

The move was news to state House Speaker Kurt Zellers who said he still opposes a special session.

Less than a day after the governor suggested that a special session would not be called to consider a new Vikings stadium, there's another push to revive the issue. After a morning meeting with Dayton and other stadium supporters Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont said she's working to get a plan on paper.

"We are going to get a bill out and it's going to be a very good stadium bill that hopefully the governor can support too," Rosen said. "You'll see us here very soon with a proposal on the table that will address the stadium issue."

Rosen hopes the Legislature can hold committee hearings on the bill and that lawmakers will debate it in a special session before the next regular session starts in January. Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead agrees. Lanning is authoring the Vikings bill in the House, and said it will be more difficult to pass a stadium bill in a regular legislative session. He disagrees with Zellers' recent statement that the stadium can wait until next year.

"There comes a point where leadership has to step forward. If it has to be those of us who are rank and file that are leaders, so be it. We just can't avoid the issue," Lanning said. "As much as people would like this issue to go away it's not going to go away."

There's no agreement on a site or financing package yet, Lanning said, but an expansion of gambling would be needed to pay for the stadium. The options include electronic pull-tabs, a downtown Minneapolis casino or allowing slot machines at the state's two horse tracks.

Dayton acknowledged that his staff met privately with lobbyists for two of the state's Native American tribes. A staffer said the meetings were for general information sharing. Dayton, however, told MPR News that he's open to asking the tribes to make a contribution to help pay for part of the stadium.

Dayton's spokeswoman told MPR News Dayton's deputy chief of staff met with lobbyists representing the Mille Lacs Band of the Ojibwe and Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community. Those tribes run two of the largest tribal casinos in the state. Dayton told MPR News that he hasn't spoken directly with tribal leaders but he endorsed the idea of asking them to make a contribution to help pay for a stadium.

"That's a possibility and in fact, it was evidently discussed last night at the working group of a number of legislators and they may initiate that. I think it's a good idea."

Tribal leaders are actively lobbying against an expansion of gambling to help pay for the stadium.

John McCarthy, executive director of Minnesota's Indian Gaming Association, said he doubted tribal leaders would make such a contribution, since he said many of the tribes can't fund all of their needs.

"There's no way that they can afford to do that with the finances that they have," McCarthy said. "And I believe that some of the ones who are a little more well-heeled are more interested in helping those other tribes than helping to fund a Vikings stadium."

McCarthy's organization is lobbying heavily against a new casino in downtown Minneapolis or allowing slot machines at the horse tracks. The group is neutral on efforts to allow electronic pull-tabs in bars, he said.

Dayton is pleased lawmakers continue to push the larger issue but said it's now up to them to craft a stadium proposal.

"It's counterproductive to see me come out with something because it seems to have the opposite effect," Dayton said. "I'm going to work in collaboration with the Legislature but they're the ones who are going to have to come up with the 68 votes in the House and the 34 votes in the Senate in order to pass whatever it is."

A spokesman for GOP Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch said Koch wants to see the stadium bill before focusing on a special session.

Zellers said on WCCO radio that the stadium can wait until the regular session starts on Jan. 24.

"In the interim, we can have the meetings and we can have the discussions. We can have all the plans, their financing, their details presented and arrive at a conclusion, say in January, when we're going to be back in session."

Zellers said he wasn't aware that there were renewed calls for a special session, despite Lanning and a key aide being in the meeting with the governor. He also said stadium supporters are calling his office and verbally abusing his staff since news broke that he opposed a special session.

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