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Minneapolis stadium backing is only one hurdle

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Ryak announces Monday that a majority of his community's city council has signed letters supporting a new Vikings football stadium. Don Davis | Bemidji Pioneer

ST. PAUL -- Minneapolis officials say they have enough votes on their City Council to approve a new Vikings stadium, but the clock may run out before legislators can approve a new facility.

It appears an increasing number of legislators want to go home for the year next week. If that happens, time could run out before a stadium bill has a chance to get through the process.

"I don't know how we possibly can do it," Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, said.

Plenty of other issues remain, even if enough Minneapolis City Council members are on board.

Lanning, the House stadium bill author, said that charities have yet to agree to the funding plan that counts on increased charitable gambling revenue to pay off stadium construction costs.

There also is disagreement about whether there should be a back-up funding plan in case charitable gambling revenues fall short during the 30-year loan. Some lawmakers say that is a must if they are to support the plan.

Monday's announcement that seven of Minneapolis' 13 council members support the stadium plan "is an important step," Lanning said.

Mayor R.T. Rybak handed Gov. Mark Dayton letters of support from seven council members. However, Rybak said in response to a question that the support only applies if legislators make no changes that affect Minneapolis in the stadium-construction bill.

That could be a problem, Lanning said, because lawmakers may opt to change the bill.

Rybak said that with majority council support, the ball is in the Legislature's hand. However, the council still needs to formally approve the plan if it passes the Legislature and Dayton signs it into law.

The Minneapolis council letters mirror a bill introduced by Lanning and Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, to extend an existing hospitality tax in the city until 2045, allow part of that money to finance the city's portion of a $975 million stadium and allow the rest of the taxes to go to economic development.

A key remaining issue is how to fund the state's $398 million portion of construction costs. The existing bill would allow charities to switch to electronic pulltab and bingo games, which the Dayton administration estimates to bring in more than enough tax revenue to the state to pay off stadium debt.

But the organization of charities that receive money from gambling consistently has said the proposal is not good enough.

"They had their eyes set on this level and now they have to settle for this," Dayton said, moving his hand from above his head to about shoulder level.

Lanning said negotiations continue with charities and he does not favor advancing the bill without their blessing.

The latest Dayton plan would give Minnesota charities $62 million more than they receive now. Charities say the plan does not return as much to them as they want.

Many lawmakers also are concerned about how the state would pay back construction loans if charitable gambling revenue falls below expectations.

Lanning said that problem has been discussed, but those talks cannot continue until charities decide to support the plan. Once that happens, Lanning said, it is prudent to consider a backup funding plan, perhaps something that "blinks on" if charitable gambling revenues fall.

Some in the Legislature hope to adjourn in less than two weeks. Legislative leaders have not made that an official goal, but talk about leaving before Easter is increasing.

Dayton and Republican legislative leaders are to meet on this and other issues today at breakfast.

"I've never seen the clock run out on something they want to do," Dayton said.