Gov. Mark Dayton said Monday he would call a special legislative session this fall for a vote on a Minnesota Vikings stadium bill, even if there's not a specific proposal tied to one of several possible sites.
The Democratic governor met behind closed doors with legislative leaders to discuss the team's bid for a new, partially taxpayer-funded stadium. Dayton set a Nov. 23 deadline for a special session, and said between now and then that he would push the team, lawmakers and other interested groups to assemble a stadium bill that could get an up-or-down vote by the state's 201 legislators.
"I don't expect the outcome to be foreordained," Dayton said. And, he said he's willing to convene lawmakers even if a final proposal is not fully assembled; his only requirement to call the special session is that the four top legislative leaders agree to limit its agenda to the stadium issue only.
The Vikings have for years sought the state's help to build a replacement to the aging Metrodome in downtown Minneapolis, which team officials have called no longer sufficiently profitable — raising the specter the team could move to Los Angeles or another city seeking an NFL franchise. In recent months, the Vikings paired with Ramsey County Board members to push a plan to build a $1.1 billion stadium in Arden Hills, a suburb north of Minneapolis and St. Paul.
With Ramsey County committed to a $350 million share and the Vikings about $400 million plus overruns, state lawmakers would have to come up with $300 million. Dayton, along with House Speaker Kurt Zellers and Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, have all said the money can't come from the state general fund — leaving limited options that could include specialty taxes tied to the game, proceeds from expanded gambling, or other options not yet publicly aired.
Zellers and Koch appeared on the same page with Dayton in calling the Vikings an important state asset that should be preserved. But both were reluctant to be pinned down on details, as they indicated Dayton should bring forward a specific plan so lawmakers can start weighing whether or not to vote for it.
"The governor is going to have to lead on this," Koch said. She and Zellers also stressed that Democrats in the House and Senate would have to provide some votes for a stadium package if it's to be successful.
Dayton said again Monday he doesn't have a strong preference between the Arden Hills proposal versus three other possible sites that would keep the team in or near downtown Minneapolis. Some political and business interests in Minneapolis have continued to maneuver to keep the team there, but Vikings vice president Lester Bagley said the team remains firmly committed to the Arden Hills proposal.
"There is no plan in Minneapolis," Bagley said.
If Arden Hills is to go forward, Dayton said, he would seek an ironclad promise from team officials to pay for any cost overruns. A report released last week by Dayton's administration concluded that the Arden Hills site, a former Army ammunition dump, could cost more and take longer to complete than currently anticipated.
Bagley said the team is prepared to pay whatever costs remain beyond the proposed $350 million Ramsey County share and $300 million state share.
Dayton said a new stadium is worth the public investment even in tough economic times, the potential to both create construction jobs and trigger other economic opportunities wherever it's built. While he said Vikings owners or officials have never threatened him that the team could leave, he said he still considered that a real threat.
"If you've been a sports fan as long as I have, you know that it used to be the Baltimore Colts, not the Indianapolis Colts," Dayton said. "It used to be the Los Angeles Rams, not the St. Louis Rams. It used to be the St. Louis Cardinals, not the Arizona Cardinals. It used to be the Minneapolis Lakers, not the Los Angeles Lakers. Teams move if they don't have the wherewithal at their present site to support their operations."
Dayton said he set the November deadline for a special session because he believes the stadium issue has its best chance to be resolved this year, away from election-year pressure likely to rear its head in the 2012 regular session.
"I see this as the best opportunity until perhaps 2013," Dayton said.
Monday's meeting was the first of three Dayton scheduled for this week to talk about the stadium push. He's due to meet on Tuesday with National Football League officials and on Wednesday with Vikings owner Zygi Wilf.
Dayton plans for special stadium session
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