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Dayton pushes for Vikings vote

ST. PAUL — News that Gov. Mark Dayton will call a special legislative session for a vote on a Vikings stadium bill without a specific proposal caught many area lawmakers by surprise.

In an interview Tuesday, Rep. Mike Benson, R-Rochester, said it will be an uphill climb for lawmakers and the governor to agree to a stadium bill by Dayton's Nov. 23 deadline. The biggest challenge is figuring out how to pay the state's $300 million share for the stadium.

"I don't believe there is consensus on the best way to pay for that, and I know there are a number of conservatives in the Republican caucus that have a lot of angst over a lot of things they've heard so far," Benson said.

The Democratic governor met Monday with legislative leaders to discuss the team's bid for a new, partially-taxpayer funded stadium. Dayton set the November deadline for a special session, and he says his only requirement is that the Legislature's four caucus leaders must agree to limit the agenda to the stadium issue. He is scheduled to meet with representatives from the National Football League today and team officials on Wednesday.

Dayton says he'll work in the coming weeks toward a specific proposal tied to proposed sites in Arden Hills and downtown Minneapolis, but he says he needs support from lawmakers.

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Several ideas have been floated to pay for a new stadium including new taxes on memorabilia, a Vikings-themed lottery game and allowing slot machines at horse racing tracks — just to name a few.

Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, said she will not support any plan that uses general fund dollars to build the stadium. She said she likes the idea of targeted taxes on things specifically tied to the Vikings. For instance, she is open to taxing football players' income. She is also willing to consider allowing racinos to fund the stadium. But other lawmakers, including Benson, are staunchly opposed to expanding gambling to help pay for a stadium.

Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, said she opposes the state helping fund a Vikings stadium, especially at a time when dramatic cuts have been made to services for some of the state's most vulnerable residents.

"I will vote no. I don't think we should have a special session," she said. "I don't think we should be funding stadiums for billionaires."

Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, sent out a tweet in reaction to the special session news: "As gov speculates on spec session, not one vote counted in the house. Are there even any members interested in tax/borrow for billionaires?"

Last week, a report raised new questions about the cost and complications of building a Minnesota Vikings stadium on a heavily contaminated site in a Twin Cities suburb.

The study, commissioned by Dayton and prepared by the Metropolitan Council, called the goal of completing the Arden Hills stadium by 2015 "unrealistic" and said 2016 or 2017 was more likely. A longer construction time frame would likely increase the current $1.1 billion price tag, the report said, threatening to tap out out a half-cent Ramsey County sales tax hike proposed to pay about a third of the total cost.

Despite the conclusions, Dayton administration officials said the report was meant to eliminate unknowns and get a deal moving. The lack of progress has raised fears about the Vikings' future in Minnesota, where the team is playing out the final year of its lease at the Metrodome.

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"Our focus is to try to make the Ramsey County Arden Hills site work," said Ted Mondale, chairman of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission and Dayton's point man on the stadium push.

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