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Minnesota Vikings Stadium debate intensifies as clock winds down

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ST. PAUL -- The game clock for this year's legislative session is running out as a Vikings stadium plan gets more complicated.

The Senate Tax Committee, the last hurdle before a full Senate vote, discussed the bill Friday night debating a number of amendments and changes to the bill. A similar bill awaits a House vote, which has not been scheduled.

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The Senate meeting continued at press time.

Some amendments offered in a Friday night Senate hearing could kill the bill, its author said.

"This is not thoughtful," Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, said of an amendment that she said would have drained Vikings profits by implementing user fees. "This puts an entire business agreement in jeopardy."

But Sen. John Howe, R-Red Wing, said that senators do not have to accept a preliminary agreement among some state officials, the Vikings and Minneapolis. "It doesn't necessarily have to be preordained. If we put something out there, everyone doesn't have to be happy about it."

Rosen reminded senators that the Vikings will not continue playing in the Metrodome without a new stadium. Gov. Mark Dayton and other stadium supporters say the Vikings likely will leave Minnesota if a stadium is not approved.

The Rosen comments came after Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, and others suggested funding plans for stadium construction such as taxing advertising, concessions, memorabilia, tickets and more.

"I think everybody that goes to a game is willing to help pay for a stadium," Bakk said.

Howe took the concept a step further.

"The users of this facility should pay for it," he said, proposing a plan that would be completely user-financed, eliminating the preferred funding method of charitable gambling taxes.

Opponents of the current plan, which would allow for electronic pulltabs and bingo to bring in more taxes, have cited concerns about expanded gambling. Others questioned whether gambling would bring in enough funds.

"Gambling is not a very consistent source of revenue. It never has been," Sen. Gretchen Hoffman, R-Vergas, said.

Plans for stadium funding Rosen and Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, propose paying for the state's $398 million portion of the construction costs by allowing for the electronic gaming devices.

Rosen and other supporters said the estimated funds from electronic gaming are very conservative.

The Legislature might miss a deadline as bill discussions continue.

"It's beginning to look more and more likely that we can't be done Monday," Lanning said, referring to lawmakers' goal of wrapping up the session then.

Even if the House and Senate can pass their own versions of the bill soon, the two will have to be combined and they have significant differences.

Lanning suggested that legislative leaders and Dayton must agree on a public works financing bill and tax bill before the full House considers a stadium. How those two votes go could affect votes on his bill, he said.

No deal has been reached on either issue.

Ortman had said finishing an overall tax bill should take priority over stadium discussion, pushing off an expected Thursday meeting on the topic.

Still, Lanning said he is "reasonably optimistic" he has enough votes for a stadium to pass the House.

The House is expected to meet this afternoon. Whenever the House takes up the stadium bill, debate could last 12 hours.

The Senate Tax Committee voted 10-3 to remove a provision allowing casinos at the state's two horse-racing tracks as a backup funding source for the project. The piece had been added in another Senate committee, and Rosen said it could kill the bill.

Some lawmakers have said they are concerned that rushing a stadium bill through could result in errors and more discussions could benefit the deal.

"This bill doesn't seem like it's ready for primetime yet," Hoffman said, especially when it comes to discussions with St. Paul, which is asking for financial help for its sports facilities.

The $975 million stadium is the largest single-project bill in Minnesota history, Ortman said.

Besides the state's contribution, the Vikings and other private sources would pay $427 million and Minneapolis would add $150 million for the stadium, which would be built on the current Metrodome site in Minneapolis.

Supporters pointed out that the stadium would be owned by the state and used for more than Vikings games.

"The purpose of this building is multi-faceted," Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook, said.

Danielle Nordine and Don Davis report for Forum Communications Co.

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