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Vikings stadium special session plan derails

Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch and House Speaker Kurt Zellers on Wednesday tell reporters that they will schedule public hearings on Vikings stadium issues. Behind them is Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk. Pioneer Photo/Don Davis

The wheels are coming off the Minnesota Vikings stadium express.

A Wednesday meeting among key politicians resulted in one agreement: A special legislative session to deal with building a new stadium is not likely, definitely not before Thanksgiving.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton had harsh words for Republican legislative leaders after the meeting, during which they rejected his plan to offer a stadium-construction proposal on Monday and call a special session to approve a stadium before Thanksgiving.

GOP leaders and Dayton each said the other side needs to draw up a plan.

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

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 will not make a stadium decision until the end of the 2012 regular session in May, well after the Vikings say they need a decision.

Wednesday was the second straight day of stadium problems and the meeting's outcome ended what had been fast-paced effort to quickly draw up and pass a stadium plan. Dayton and legislators have no further meetings scheduled.

Dayton called the meeting with Zellers, Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, and others after an email surfaced in which Zellers told colleagues that he does not favor a special session and has told the governor that repeatedly.

The governor, however, said that the speaker had not given him that message. "No one has ever told me they are against a special session."

Zellers refused to answer reporters' questions about why he told other representatives in the email that he opposes a special session dealing with the proposed $1.1 billion stadium but has not said that in public. Instead, he told reporters they should focus on the message he and Koch wanted to spread: Legislative hearings will be scheduled on stadium issues.

However, they offered no details on the hearings. They did not say when they would begin or if they would be held before any stadium plan is produced.

Wednesday's developments leave the stadium's future in limbo, Dayton said.

"All they want to do is disagree with everything," Dayton said of GOP leaders.

While he planned to release his specific plan on Monday, he said that he now has canceled all stadium-related meetings, including one with Vikings owner Zygi Wilf.

Dayton said that if lawmakers wait to approve a stadium plan until next spring, as he expects, it will delay the hiring of thousands of workers to build the facility.

The biggest unknown was how to fund the public portion of a stadium.

Ramsey County was counting on legislative approval to increase its local sales tax by a half percentage point to build a $1.1 billion 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.

Also, 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 and use electronic devices. Other potential funding methods, all of which have strong opposition, include allowing a downtown Minneapolis casino or adding slot machines to 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.

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.