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Minn. gov. looks to next year after stadium setback

Dayton confident Vikings will get new home

By Brian Bakst
Associated Press

St. Paul, MN — Gov. Mark Dayton conceded Tuesday that the deal to build the Minnesota Vikings a new stadium might not happen until next year, but he said he was confident it would get done despite a critical setback in the Legislature.

A state House committee rejected the plan in a 9-6 vote Monday, and with the legislative session nearing an end, Dayton said it was up to lawmakers to decide whether to try again this year.

“I’ve done everything I can think of to persuade people and will continue to do so,” Dayton said. “If we don’t get it this session we’ll get it next session. Sometimes the difficult takes a while, the impossible takes a little longer.”

Dayton has made the stadium a priority, arguing that it would result in construction jobs and keep the NFL franchise, whose lease at the Metrodome expired, from leaving the state. Dayton said he had “no doubt” it would prevail in 2013.

“We have to get a stadium next year or the Vikings will leave,” he said. “It’s just as clear as that. We can’t have it both ways. We can’t not do a new stadium and have the Vikings remain here very long.”

Republican House Speaker Kurt Zellers blamed Democrats for the committee setback. Only one Democrat voted for the package.

“Now it’s probably up to the governor and the Democrat leader in the House to decide if they want to go forward. It was very clear last night they weren’t interested in passing the bill out of committee,” Zellers said.

“Somebody’s going to have to pull a rabbit out of a hat for this thing to be alive at this point,” said Rep. Morrie Lanning, the chief House sponsor of the stadium plan. A Senate version of the stadium bill has been stalled in that chamber for the past month.

Lester Bagley, the Vikings’ point man on the stadium push at the Capitol, said after the committee vote that the team was “extremely disappointed” at the outcome. “I guess I would ask the state, what else would you expect us to do? What else can we do?” he said.

Bagley said the team would continue to push the proposal as long as the Legislature remained in session. “But this is extremely disappointing, and it sends a strong message to the Vikings and the NFL about the situation,” he said. He would not say whether the committee vote made the team’s future in Minnesota any less secure.

The proposal would split the cost three ways for a stadium to be built at the Metrodome site in downtown Minneapolis: $398 million from the state from taxes on expanded gambling, $150 million from the city of Minneapolis from existing sales taxes and $427 million from the Vikings with assistance likely from the NFL.

Before the vote, Vikings officials faced tough questions from several committee members who said they weren’t convinced the proposal would be a good deal for taxpayers.

“How do we as representatives of public taxpayers, how do we know we’re getting a good deal?” asked Rep. Ryan Winkler, D-Golden Valley, who later voted against the proposal. Rep. Bev Scalze, D-Little Canada, questioned whether a football stadium was a defensible use of public money when the state was just starting to recover from years of budget problems.

Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, repeated a frequently-heard question about the issue: “Why should we help a billionaire build a stadium he can afford to build himself?” he asked, referencing Vikings owner Zygi Wilf.

Bagley defended the project as more than just a football stadium, pointing out it would be used for everything from high school sports tournaments to national events such as hosting NCAA basketball finals.

The Vikings say the Metrodome no longer is sufficiently profitable compared with other NFL venues. While the team is committed to playing in the Metrodome for the 2012 football season, it no longer has an active lease in the 30-year-old facility, and team officials have said they did not intend to sign one.

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