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Andrew Tellijohn, State Capitol Bureau, Published January 29 2011

Vikings stadium bill likely to return

ST. PAUL – Last year’s Hail Mary fell incomplete as time ran out on the Minnesota Vikings and their push for a new stadium.

But the team may be granted an overtime period in the 2011 Minnesota Legislature.

Lawmakers insist that they will not finance a Vikings stadium from the general fund, fueled by state taxes, nor will they lose their primary focus on putting residents back to work or balancing the budget.

But there appears to be interest from Democratic and Republican lawmakers and Gov. Mark Dayton in discussing options that could result in the Vikings getting a new stadium.

Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, and Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, are among the most visible lawmakers who plan to introduce a bill that will take another stab at finding a financing answer suitable for both the team and the state before the football Vikings’ lease at the Metrodome ends after next season.

“It’s a hot topic of conversation,” Lanning said. “The first order of business is our budget. … I think leadership understands that later in the session the issue of a stadium will be one that needs to be addressed.”

Rosen admitted she may have jumped the gun with her original goal of having a bill ready by the first week of February. But discussions could be coming sooner rather than later.

Ted Mondale, recently appointed chairman of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, said Gov. Mark Dayton would like to jump start the stadium discussion soon.

Dayton “wants to make sure that whatever comes to him for his support is what he calls a ‘people’s stadium,’ which I would say would not be looked at as a public subsidy in that the benefits to the public would be greater than the amount of tax dollars that go into it,” Mondale said.

Several lawmakers have pledged open-mindedness to other ideas ranging from expanding gambling to instituting sports memorabilia or hospitality taxes, similar to those discussed last year.

While the budget remains their top priority, many lawmakers said there is no reason the Vikings’ issue can’t be debated simultaneously.

“We have to try to make something work,” said Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth. “We can walk and chew gum at the same time.”

Marquart is open to a tax on tickets or memorabilia, to a local sales tax such as was done for the Minnesota Twins’ stadium, to foregoing sales tax on construction materials and to other ideas.

There are still legislators opposed to addressing the issue.

“The NFL is having a collective bargaining fight right now,” said Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington. “Until they get that straightened out, I can’t imagine us taking any action. … Until we know their cost structure, it would be very difficult for us to do anything.”

Perhaps the most polarizing option under discussion is to expand gambling to fund a stadium.

Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, wants to see a partnership emerge be­tween the state and an American Indian community. The Prairie Island Indian Community, for example, “would be good, common sense folks we hopefully can work with to find a solution,” McNamara said. “They’ve done great things.”

Other lawmakers find the prospects of expanding gambling for a stadium distasteful.

Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker, said he opposes gambling expansion in general, but if it is going to happen, the proceeds should be used to balance the budget.

Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, was a proponent of Vikings stadium talks during the 2010 session, and he remains open to considering several financial options, but not gambling.

“I think gaming creates a lot of other problems in society,” he said.

Lanning insisted that while he and fellow greater Minnesota lawmaker Rosen are among the most visible proponents of negotiating a deal, urban and suburban lawmakers also also involved in informal discussions. One is Rep. Joe Hoppe, R-Chaska, who said he is open to a number of options outside of the general fund.

“Having the Vikings is a good thing,” Hoppe said. “We just don’t know how to pay for it.”

Sen. Tom Saxhaug, DFL-Grand Rapids, said lawmakers can’t wait too long to get started on discussions or they will run out of time like they did in 2010.

“We’re not going to let the Vikings leave,” Saxhaug said. “We’ve got to figure out a way to build a stadium without general fund money.”

He cited the Minnesota North Stars, a hockey team that moved to Dallas in 1993, as the example for why it is important to act now. Replacing the team with another National Hockey League team took years and cost multiple times what it would have to keep the North Stars in the first place, he said.

“Why would we let that happen again?” Saxhaug said.

Andrew Tellijohn is a Twin Cities freelance writer.