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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota Vikings fans have long been accustomed to the refrain “Just wait ’til next year,” and they heard it again Tuesday amid the fallout from a House committee’s vote against the team’s long-sought public subsidy to build a new stadium.
With the state’s legislative session headed likely to wrap up in the next two weeks, Gov. Mark Dayton said that resolving the stadium issue, which has lingered for about a decade, would probably have to wait until 2013. That’s likely to create angst for Minnesota pro football fans worried that the team’s long-term future in the state hangs in the balance.
“We can’t not do a new stadium and have the Vikings remain here very long,” Dayton said. But he was not optimistic about chances for reviving the bill this year, following its defeat Monday night. A state House committee voted 9-6 to reject the $975 million plan to build a replacement for the Metrodome in downtown Minneapolis.
“Sometimes the difficult takes a while, the impossible takes a little longer,” Dayton said. He said it would be up to lawmakers to decide whether to try again as legislative leaders push to adjourn before the end of April.
The stadium bill’s defeat at the hands of the House Government Operations Committee makes it difficult, but not impossible, to revive this year. Rep. Morrie Lanning, the bill’s chief House author, said it would need a strong push from legislative leaders in order to circumvent the standard committee process that all bills are held to; so far, House Speaker Kurt Zellers has been reluctant to embrace the stadium plan.
Despite Dayton’s comments, Vikings vice president Lester Bagley said waiting until next year is “not an option.” Bagley stopped short of threatening that the Vikings would leave Minnesota, but he said the issue must be settled in 2012. Team officials have called the Metrodome outdated and no longer profitable enough for the Vikings.
“There’s no next year,” Bagley said. “Our state leaders know that if we want an NFL team in this market we have to resolve this stadium issue.”
The Vikings have no option but to play in the Metrodome in the 2012 season, but the team’s lease in the 30-year-old facility is expired and officials have said they don’t plan to renew it.
“I don’t expect them to leave in 2012, I don’t know what their timeline would be, but after being in all these discussions, and reading all the information, I have concluded there’s a substantial likelihood the Vikings will leave within the next few years, one way or another, if the stadium issue is not addressed,” said Rep. Terry Morrow, a Democrat from St. Peter and stadium bill co-sponsor.
Zellers put the blame on Democrats for the setback in the House. Of the six “yes” votes, only one was a Democrat. During a four-hour hearing prior to the vote, House members raised concerns that the stadium proposal was a bad deal for taxpayers and an indefensible use of public money when the state is just starting to recover from years of budget problems.
“Now it’s probably up to the governor and the Democrat leader in the House to decide if they want to go forward,” Zellers said. “It was very clear last night they weren’t interested in passing the bill out of committee.”
Morrow pointed out that the opposition was bipartisan, with four Republicans and five Democrats voting against the bill.
A Senate version of the stadium bill has been stalled in that chamber for the last month. Its sponsor, Sen. Julie Rosen, said that she still hoped to get a hearing and vote in the Senate Local Government Committee this week — but admitted that its failure in the House was a setback.
“It’s disheartening, but it’s not over,” said Rosen, R-Fairmont.
Bagley huddled outside the Senate chamber Tuesday with the Democratic leader, Sen. Tom Bakk, a stadium supporter. Bakk said he didn’t think it was too late to revive the effort in the session’s final days.
“I don’t think it’s dead,” Bakk said, noting that Dayton still considers it a priority. “It certainly has gotten more difficult.”
Bakk said he could see the proposal getting new life as part of a traditional end-of-session bargain that would allow both Dayton and Republican leaders to claim victory from the session. Dayton met privately throughout Tuesday with Republican leaders working toward a session-ending deal, but a spokesman for the governor said after the last meeting that the stadium plan was not a part of the discussion.
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