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Stadium Bill Out, Vikings Vie For Capitol Notice

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota Vikings finally got their stadium bill Friday, but with only 45 days left in the legislative session the team will have to compete for attention from state lawmakers who are mulling deep spending cuts in response to a $5 billion budget shortfall.

The bill is set to be introduced Monday, but its text was released only on Friday. It proposes spending $300 million in money from state taxpayers to help cover the costs of the Vikings’ long-sought replacement for the Metrodome. Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, said she’s glad to finally have a proposal for fellow lawmakers and the public to consider.

Despite the shrinking amount of time available, Rosen said she didn’t think legislative committees would take up the bill in the next few weeks. She acknowledged the bill leaves many unanswered questions, chief among them what Twin Cities city or county will partner up to host the stadium and tap local taxpayers for another portion of the cost.

“I think there’s plenty of time to get a Vikings bill done” this year, Rosen said, noting that a previous bill was introduced last year with only 10 days left in the session. This year, the regular legislative session by law must end by May 23.

The bill would raise money for the stadium with a 10 percent state sales tax on sports memorabilia, along with a sales tax on luxury seats at the new stadium and on digital video recorders, and proceeds from stadium naming rights and a football-themed state lottery game.

The bill does not identify a location for the new covered stadium to replace the Metrodome, instead creating a Minnesota Stadium authority with members appointed by the governor who will gather site bids from local governments in the Twin Cities and pick a stadium site by Feb. 15, 2012. The Vikings would be responsible for a third of costs estimated to reach at least $900 million, plus any cost overruns.

City or county officials who want to host the new stadium would submit bids that include a financing package for a local share. Aspiring local partners could raise that share with a half-cent increase in their local sales tax, as well as by levying or increasing local sales taxes on liquor, lodging, entertainment, game admission, food and beverage.

So far, only Ramsey County has stepped forward as a potential local partner by offering the site of a former Army ammunition plant about 10 miles north of St. Paul. Vikings officials have expressed a preference for the current Metrodome site for a variety of reasons, but local leaders in Minneapolis and Hennepin County have been more hesitant to embrace the team.

Rosen said the creation of the Stadium Authority — which would replace the current Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission — and the 2012 location deadline will give the Vikings more time to recruit the right local partner.

Lester Bagley, the team’s point man on stadium affairs, said Friday that the bill “provides a workable framework to negotiate a deal.” Bagley said the Vikings have some concerns about a few elements in the bill, but the team appreciates the lawmakers’ efforts to move the proposal forward.

The Vikings have sought state assistance to build a new stadium for about a decade; the team’s lease at the Metrodome ends after the 2011 football season, and team officials have said the nearly 30-year-old venue is no longer sufficiently profitable. The collapse of the Metrodome’s roof last December added urgency to the team’s pleas, and team supporters have raised concerns that failure by the state to help pay for a new stadium could result in a move to another city.

The Senate bill argues that spending state money on a private enterprise “provides to the state of Minnesota and its citizens highly valued intangible benefits that are virtually impossible to quantify.”

But so far, leaders of the Legislature’s Republican majorities have avoided detailed discussions of the bill, saying the state budget takes precedence.

Gov. Mark Dayton has been more supportive. “I’m glad the Legislature is taking that step and I remain hopeful that they’ll take the initiative to pass this,” Dayton said Friday.

Dayton said lawmakers should easily be able to handle a stadium debate while completing a budget.

“There’s plenty of time. I mean this respectfully — they’re good at multitasking. They do that all the time,” he said.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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