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Don Davis, Forum Communications, Published May 01 2012

UPDATED: GOP begins rewriting Vikings stadium plan

ST. PAUL – Minnesota Republican lawmakers say it is time for a Vikings stadium plan do-over.

GOP leaders said Tuesday that they are crafting a plan less expensive for the state than one awaiting House and Senate votes.

The GOP proposal could leave open the possibility of an open-air stadium. The plan does not mandate whether or not the stadium would have a roof, leaving it up to the Vikings to determine and pay for one if the team deemed that the stadium needed a roof.

Gov. Mark Dayton and Democratic legislative leaders learned of the proposal Tuesday morning. By telling reporters about it, they forced Republicans who control the Legislature to reveal the concept that has been discussed in private for two weeks.

While many Republicans appear to like the plan, Democrats are upset they have not been involved. The Vikings rejected it.

“It is not a concept we support,” Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley said, adding that the team provided Republicans with information for their new proposal but the Vikings still back a plan worked out over the past eight months.

“It shouldn’t be a setback,” Bagley said. “Just another day at the Capitol.”

House Majority Leader Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, began private discussions on the idea after hearing from fellow lawmakers that they wanted a lower state cost and a plan that did not use gambling to fund stadium construction debt.

His plan would cost the state 20 percent to 25 percent of total stadium cost. The plan that has passed through several legislative committees would provide for a $975 million stadium, with the state paying $398 million through taxes collected on expanded charitable gambling.

“There is no gambling in this proposal,” Dean told a hastily called news conference a couple hours after Dayton revealed the GOP plan.

The Dean plan would be repaid by state general fund dollars.

Dean said the state would pay for infrastructure, what he described as “from the turf down.”

The Vikings and others would pay for the actual stadium and it would be up to them to “determine what the stadium will look like,” he said, such as whether it would have a roof.

However, since the plan calls for the state selling bonds to repay construction debt, the stadium would be publicly owned.

The stadium would be folded into a public works financing bill that also would contain money to begin state Capitol building renovation.

Dean and Ortman said how much would be spent on the projects still is being worked out, although Twin Cities Public Television reported the plan was for a $746 million overall bill with $250 million for the stadium.

Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, said work continues: “We have to find what Minnesotans’ tolerance would be.”

There was no tolerance among Democrats who spoke of the plan.

Dayton called it a “deep secret” he learned about Tuesday morning from “a third party” whom he would not identify.

“We have been working on this eight months,” Dayton said, but the new plan that did not involve any Democrats “is very, very disappointing” and he called it “cynical, underhanded politics.”

Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said two principles most lawmakers back are that a stadium would not be funded by general tax funds and it would have a roof. The preliminary GOP proposal could violate both, he said.

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak also objected to the plan, which likely would lose his city’s support.

“Minnesotans love Vikings games, but they hate political games,” he said.

Chief stadium bill author Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, said a plan agreed upon weeks ago remains the chief proposal, but “there are new ideas every day.”

“At this point, anything could happen,” Lanning added.

Lanning and other stadium supporters have said his bill has enough votes to pass the House, but House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, questioned if the support is there.

The Legislature planned to adjourn Monday, but missed that self-imposed deadline because work remains on the stadium, taxes and public works projects. It is not known how much longer the Legislature will meet.

Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Forum. He can be reached at (651) 290-0707 or ddavis@forumcomm.com

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