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Lawmakers struggling in their search for stadium plan funding

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ST. PAUL -- Finding money to fund a $1.1 billion Minnesota Vikings football stadium is proving more elusive than plugging a $5 billion state budget deficit.

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Since stadium discussion began early this year, carried over from previous Vikings' stadium efforts, no funding idea has gained widespread support. In comparison, the budget was fixed in July.

Stadium funding roadblocks come from all sides: A coalition of legislators ranging from the most conservative to the most liberal say they cannot support using any gambling money for new stadium. Arts supporters strongly oppose using money from an arts and heritage fund.

Conservative Republicans, who control the Minnesota House and Senate, stand against any tax increases.

There is so little agreement that some lawmakers do not think Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton's plan to call a pre-Thanksgiving special legislative session is feasible.

"I am thinking this is something that is going to be done in regular session," Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, said about the session that begins Jan. 24.

Others say that election politics and new legislative district maps to be released Feb. 21 mean stadium funding is too much of a hot-button issue to pass next year.

"It might be that there is no way to do it," Urdahl said.

Dayton and legislative leaders talk about the situation this morning.

An unusual coalition of liberal, conservative and moderate lawmakers announced on Thursday their opposition to using gambling money.

While just nine lawmakers were at the anti-gambling news conference, Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said they could represent a majority of the 201 legislators.

Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, said that "gambling is a tax on people who are bad at math" because chances of winning are so remote.

The major gambling expansion proposals are adding casinos at the one or both of the state's horse racing tracks and to open a casino in downtown Minneapolis.

Sen. Tony Lourey, DFL-Kerrick, said he opposes using any gambling funds, which shows that a fellow rural senator's idea faces problems.

Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, suggests allowing charitable pull tab games to be allowed to use electronic machines. That, Bakk said, would increase spending on pull tabs and provide enough money for the state to repay money its borrows for its portion of stadium construction costs.

Bakk said that his plan would be especially attractive to rural lawmakers, whose districts include many charities that depend on pull tab revenues. Besides the state getting more money, the senator said, his proposal would give charities more and help bars and other businesses that sell the tabs.

Rep. Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, suggested looking at funds designated for culture and heritage projects, but is open to Bakk's idea.

Not a big fan of gambling, Daudt said that the only gambling he might be able to support would be allowing electronic pull tabs.

Daudt said that he proposed using so-called legacy funds, approved by voters in 2008, because many people think the Vikings are part of the state's culture.

"One man's Orpheum (Theater) is another man's Vikings stadium," Daudt said.

He suggests taking some money out of a $50 million annual pot that now goes for programs ranging from public broadcasting to community theaters.

"I think for the most part people are open to it or willing to talk about it," Daudt said.

People certainly are talking about his idea. Urdahl, head of the House legacy funding committee, said he has received hundreds of emails a day since Daudt's proposal became public a week ago.

"It is not one of my favorites," Urdahl said, and he would not support using all of the arts and heritage fund for a stadium.

Like Daudt, Urdahl is open to allowing electronic pull tabs, but he said that stadium funding remains a work in progress.

"This is a real moving object," Urdahl said. "That is why it is difficult to make firm commitments. Things are changing almost daily on what seems to be the most doable thing."

While state leaders ponder funding, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak on Thursday talked about three potential stadium sites in his city's downtown. The Vikings issued a statement that their preferred Aden Hills location is ideal, and Rybak said he would not pursue Minneapolis plans without team backing.

Rybak said that any of three sites would cost less in construction and be cheaper for fans than Arden Hills.

Ramsey County officials want to increase the sales tax in their county to raise $350 million and the state would contribute $300 million for an Arden Hills stadium, with team owners paying the rest for a $1.1 billion stadium.

Dayton has said he plans to announce his stadium plan on Nov. 7 and to call a special legislative session on Nov. 21. However, Dayton spokeswoman Katharine Tinucci said that Dayton would be willing to call the session earlier if lawmakers need more time to finish by Thanksgiving.

The Vikings say they will not renew the Metrodome lease that expires after this season and the only way they will play there next season is if they have a deal to build a new stadium.

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

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Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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