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Analysis: Path ahead for Vikings stadium not simple or sure

House Speaker Kurt Zellers, backed by Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem, talks about a Vikings stadium with reporters. Zellers consistantly has said he cannot take a side on the stadium until he sees a bill. Neither Republican leader would commit to supporting stadium construction. DON DAVIS | BEMIDJI PIONEER

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota, Vikings and Minneapolis leaders broke up a closed-door meeting about a stadium Wednesday night, and within minutes a sports website reported that the Legislature would vote on the measure Thursday.

But those at the website and most Minnesotans do not realize the complexity of making legislation, stadium-related or otherwise.

The stadium proposal faces hurdles like few other bills in what now becomes a more public discussion about whether the state should be involved in stadium construction and, if so, how.

A group of about 15 stadium supporters has met off and on in private for weeks. Those involved finally came to an agreement among themselves Wednesday night.

The $975 million stadium would be funded by $427 million from the Vikings, $398 million from the state and $150 million from Minneapolis. It would be built on the current Metrodome site in downtown Minneapolis and probably be ready in 2016.

The 13-page agreement contains all of that, but on Friday work began to turn it into a bill that legislators and Gov. Mark Dayton can consider.

The bill will be introduced soon and begin separate treks through House and Senate committees, where there will be several chances for the Vikings, Minneapolis officials, Dayton aides and the public to testify and answer lawmakers' questions.

A problem the stadium bill could face is finding a place on already-busy committee agendas.

Committees face a series of deadlines, beginning March 16, to wrap up work as legislative leaders hope to adjourn for the year next month. While it is doubtful a stadium bill could get full hearings in all the necessary committees by then, legislative leaders could grant it an exception. On Friday, they refused to make that commitment.

"We have deadlines for all bills," Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, said, a hint he may not favor greasing the skids too much.

Since only a fraction of lawmakers have been involved in stadium negotiations, most who were interviewed after the agreement was reached said they would withhold support until their questions are answered.

To no one's surprise, money issues top lawmakers' question lists.

The agreement calls for the state to borrow its $398 million contribution to stadium construction, to be repaid with proceeds from charitable gambling.

Charities that now use cardboard pulltab and bingo games could switch to electronic devices, which they say would increase gambling. Estimates indicate the state would get $72 million more a year.

Many legislators want to make sure that charities would not lose money under the funding plan.

Some legislators oppose any gambling expansion. Other legislators say if gambling is expanded, money should go to fundamental state needs such as education.

The Minneapolis funding also is in question.

Most involved in stadium negotiations say the Minneapolis City Council would need to approve a stadium deal. Those who have counted votes say the 13-member council lacks enough support at this point.

One problem some Minneapolis council members mention is that the city charter requires the public to vote on any stadium financing plan greater than $10 million. Mayor R.T. Rybak says that does not apply to the Vikings plan, but others disagree.

As the bill goes through the legislative committee process, lawmakers from all parts of Minnesota will be lobbied behind closed doors. The Vikings have 17 lobbyists registered at the Capitol.

Minnesotans also will be lobbied. Stadium supporters plan to meet with newspaper editorial boards and pitch stories about the plan to news reporters.

Legislative leaders have been noncommittal on the stadium issue for more than a year. Dayton has criticized them for not leading the effort.

Senjem and House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, will be key to whether a bill passes.

Zellers regularly has said he needs to see a bill before he can express support. Soon after the agreement was unveiled, he added another requirement: The speaker said he must see how a bill fares in the committee process.

He and Senjem agree with their colleagues that they are just too many questions.

"Is this the best menu?" Senjem asked.

With all the obstacles, the situation boils down to, in terms those who work on that sports Web site may use, stadium supporters have the ball on their own 20-yard line, with 80 yards to go for a score.