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Stadium bill awaits votes

ST. PAUL - The issue that is front and center of the Minnesota Legislature, building a Vikings stadium, will be debated by a Minnesota Senate committee this afternoon and could be before the full House as early as tonight.

If the House takes up the issue, most predictions are it will be a 12-hour debate.

The Senate Tax Committee needs to approve the bill before the full Senate can vote on it. The committee is to convene later today and is expected to debate the issue for several hours.

Before final approval, the House and Senate must combine their versions of the bill after each passes its own. There are significant differences to be worked out, and little time remains before a Monday deadline lawmakers plan for the end of the session.

Tax Committee Chairwoman Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, had said finishing an overall tax bill should take priority over stadium discussion, pushing off an expected Thursday meeting on the issue.

The Senate Finance Committee approved the stadium bill this week but added a proposal allowing casinos at the state's two horse-racing tracks as a backup funding source for the project. It was a change bill author Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, said could kill the bill and hoped it would be removed.

Lawmakers unhappy with including gambling as a funding source for the stadium are calling for other plans, including taxes on concessions, memorabilia, tickets and more.

Plans for stadium funding authored by Rosen and Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, propose paying for the state's $398 million portion of the construction costs by allowing for electronic pulltab and bingo devices. The Vikings and other private sources would contribute $427 million and Minneapolis would add $150 million for the stadium, which would be built on the current Metrodome site in Minneapolis.

Rosen said the estimated revenues from electronic gaming are very conservative and easily should cover the state's portion of funding.