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Republicans split on stadium as they try to convince skeptics they're serious

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Stadium concept
The Minnesota Vikings released this concept of a new stadium in downtown Minneapolis, April, 2, 2012. This concept depicts the downtown skyline and events surrounding Vikings game days.
Courtesy of the Minnesota Vikings

Republicans in the Minnesota Legislature are trying to build support for a stadium financing plan that was initially panned by DFL lawmakers and the Minnesota Vikings.

GOP legislative leaders tried to sell their plan in several private meetings on Wednesday with Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, Vikings officials, and DFL leaders including Gov. Mark Dayton. Lawmakers are more open to the idea, but there is no guarantee the proposal will get the needed votes to pass the Legislature.

The plan would rely on a $250 million state contribution that borrows against the state's general fund to pay for it. GOP House Majority Leader Matt Dean said the plan is $150 million less than the proposal backed by the team and governor that is now awaiting a vote by the House and Senate. But it is also at least $150 million short of the amount needed to build a roof on the stadium.

After a day of meeting, Dean said the plan still needs some work.

"We're just discussing the pure mechanics of this as a funding source. Can we do it? It's probably a long shot to try to make it work," Dean said. "But we're looking for ideas and we're looking for votes."

Dean called the Republican plan much simpler than the bill that is now awaiting action by the House and Senate. That measure would fund the state's $398 million contribution by authorizing electronic pull-tab machines.  

The governor said he still wanted to see a vote on the plan he is backing. On Wednesday, Dayton initially called the Republican plan a "fiasco" and a "hare-brained scheme" but seemed more willing to listen after meeting privately with Republican leaders.

Mark Dayton
Gov. Mark Dayton speaks to the media at the State Capitol on Tuesday, May 1, 2012.
MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire

"To throw the deck of cards up in the air two days after they were supposed to adjourn is pretty incredible," Dayton said. "But again, my goal is to reach a solution, and however we can responsibly work out a solution that's good for Minnesota, that's good for taxpayers, that's good for jobs, I'm certainly willing to pursue that."

Republican leaders are working on alternate plan because they unsure there is enough support to pass Dayton's plan. Several lawmakers expressed concern about the expansion of gambling. Others, including Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, said they don't believe the money from the electronic pull-tabs would come through. Drazkowski said he is willing to look at the latest offer.

"I view as a serious alternative that could, as far as I can see, have the potential to pass the Legislature," Drazkowski said.

Heavy lifting will be needed to pass the GOP plan in both legislative bodies. The proposal relies on state borrowing, which means a super majority would have to pass it. That leaves some members like Sen. Jeremy Miller, R-Winona to think the electronic pull-tab expansion is a better option.

"I like the proposal of using the electronic pull-tabs and bingo. I talked to a lot of the bar owners and charities in southeastern Minnesota and they're supportive of that," Miller said. "The bar owners think it will bring more business in and the charities believe it will bring in a little bit more revenue."

Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, suggested that some funding should come from the state's business community and the Native American tribes. He suggested those groups could help finance the stadium's roof.

"I would hope our business community steps up and either helps fund the gap for Minneapolis or gets some sort of consortium together, a trust of non-profit, and contributes to a $200 million roof," Chamberlain said.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem confirmed GOP leaders were considering a private contribution to pay for the roof. But Minnesota Chamber of Commerce President David Olson rejected that idea.

"The business community is going to have a fairly substantial investment in this stadium already when you think about the suites, and the club seats and advertising and the naming rights," Olson said. "Stadiums don't happen without that type of business community support."

Vikings lobbyist Lester Bagley says one place the state should not look for an increased contribution is from the team.  He said the Vikings will not go above their previously pledged contribution of $428 million.