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Dayton on stadium: Back to 'starting point,' VIkings want an answer soon

ST. PAUL - Funding a Minnesota Vikings football stadium went back to the beginning today and it is uncertain whether a planned pre-Thanksgiving special legislative session is possible.

Legislative leaders and Gov. Mark Dayton announced that a public vote will be needed to approve a sales tax increase to help pay for a stadium.

For months, stadium backers have said a public referendum, which could not come until November of 2012, would end the stadium's chances. There likely are not enough public votes to approve tax increases or the legislative votes to approve a sales tax without going to the public.

Discussion about a Vikings stadium has gone on for years, but this afternoon Dayton said: "We are at the starting point right now."

The Vikings have said they need to know about a new stadium soon; their Metrodome lease expires at the end of this season and they want a new stadium deal by then. This afternoon, Vice President Lester Bagley said that the team and Ramsey County will have "to get our heads together" to discuss a new funding option.

"We will have to go to Plan B," Dayton told reporters, but he could offer no new revenue source.

While a local government was expected to pay $350 million, most likely from a local sales tax increase, the state has not decided how it would fund the $300 million it would contribute to a stadium. That leaves $650 million out of a $1.1 billion stadium cost in limbo.

For the state portion, Dayton said that electronic pull tabs appear to be the only funding source that could be acceptable to lawmakers. That is a plan discussed for years to modernize pull tab gambling, with profits going to charities. The new pull tabs would use electronic devices instead of paper.

Still, Dayton said, electronic pull tabs have not been vetted fully.

Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, promotes the pull tab solution as one that Indian tribes, which oppose other gambling expansion, and rural legislators will support.

Attorney General Lori Swanson is looking into electronic pull tabs, Dayton said.

While many look at removing the sales tax option as a setback, Dayton said it also could be considered progress. "I think it is a step forward in that we have clarified this is not an option."

Bagley said the Vikings also look at it as progress because state leaders have placed an urgency on stadium work and are looking at all options.

Dayton said he knows of no other local revenue that could be substituted for a sales tax.

A joint news release from legislative leaders and Dayton this afternoon said those in a Friday meeting did not think there were enough legislative votes to approve a stadium construction plan that did not include a public referendum. After considering it further, top policy makers today said they cannot approve any stadium plan without a referendum.

"Last Friday's meeting was very significant in eliminating one proposed source of financing for a people's stadium in either Ramsey County or Minneapolis, unless the Vikings are willing to endure the time delay and continuing uncertainty in obtaining voters' approval," Dayton said in a statement. "Given this reality, we are now actively assessing and discussing with the team other financing options."

Legislative leaders and Dayton did not comment on the referendum issue when they talked to reporters immediately after their Friday meeting.

The news release indicated that a public referendum on a sales tax increase would be needed if the stadium were built either in Ramsey County, where the Vikings prefer, or Minneapolis, which is making its own bid to host a stadium.

Dayton had planned to release his stadium construction plan Monday, with a special legislative session planned to begin Nov. 21.

The governor today said he does not know if a pre-Thanksgiving special session is feasible. Legislators must vote on several provisions of a stadium-construction package.

Don Davis covers the Minnesota Capitol for Forum Communications Co.