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Special stadium session declared very unlikely

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ST. PAUL - Chances of a special legislative session to approve a Minnesota Vikings football stadium all but died late this afternoon.

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Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton emerged from a meeting with Republican legislative leaders saying they rejected his plan to produce a stadium construction proposal on Monday and call lawmakers into special session to wrap up work by Thanksgiving. Republican legislative leaders came out of the same meeting saying they would schedule committee hearings to discuss stadium issues, but offered no timeline of their own.

"The ball is in their court," Dayton said. "They have nixed my timetable."

But House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, who had sent an email to fellow Republican lawmakers saying he opposes a special session, said the Legislature should not reconvene until a stadium plan is on the table.

"Without a plan, I don't know how we are going to do that," Zellers said.

Dayton predicted that lawmakers would not make a stadium decision until the end of the 2012 regular session in May, well after the Vikings say they need a decision.

Today was the second straight day of stadium problems.

On Tuesday, the governor and legislative leaders said they do not have the votes to supersede state law and allow a local sales tax increase without a public vote, poking a $350 million hole in stadium construction plans. Then, the Zellers email came to light saying he does not support a special legislative session to deal with the stadium.

The top state senator says she does not think policymakers are ready for a special session.

And, overall, there is no agreement on how to provide public funds for the proposed $1.1 billion facility.

Ramsey County was counting on legislative approval to increase its local sales tax by a half percentage point to build a stadium in Arden Hills. However, on Tuesday Dayton and top lawmakers said there were not enough votes in the Legislature to waive state law that requires a public referendum on local sales taxes.

That left Ramsey County with no funding option, and reduced a Minneapolis stadium proposal to relying on a long-shot plan to allow a downtown casino.

While the $350 million from a sales tax fell through sent local officials back to square one, there has yet to be anything close to an agreement on how the state should find its $300 million portion of the costs.

Dayton has declared the favored state option as allowing charitable pull tabs to modernize with electronic devices. That could attract more gamblers, which supporters say would help charities and provide more money to the state.

Other potential funding methods, all of which have strong opposition, include allowing the downtown Minneapolis casino or adding slot machines at horse-racing tracks, starting a Vikings-related lottery game, siphoning some funds away from arts and culture and taxing sports memorabilia.

The Vikings have four games left in the downtown Minneapolis Metrodome before their lease expires. After that, the team says it will not sign a new lease unless there is a Vikings stadium deal.

While team owners say they will not move the team out of Minnesota, observers fear they could sell it, and then the team would move.

Questions about a special legislative session arise when Zellers said he did not support one, saying the stadium should be debated during the regular session that begins on Jan. 24.

However, political pressures of an election year could prevent any stadium plan from passing next year, many in the Capitol say.

House stadium bill sponsor Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, said chances of a stadium plan passing decline during the regular session.

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