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Rural lawmakers question stadium chances for Vikings

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota political leaders have a month to agree on a Vikings football stadium deal before chances of success diminish.

Regardless of the timing, rural lawmakers who in the past have cast key votes in favor of stadiums are pessimistic of its chances.

Even Rep. Tom Anzelc, an "unabashed, unqualified supporter," said a new football facility is a long shot.

When the northern Minnesota Democrat left St. Paul after a special July legislative session that produced a controversial state budget to end a government shutdown, there was little House support for another special session to deal with the stadium issue. Since then, he said, "I'm not seeing any movement toward the positive side."

The House sponsor of a stadium bill said that if the stadium debate does not happen until next year, the job will be much harder.

"I didn't feel this way a couple months ago but, frankly, our best hope is a special session," Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, said.

Rural lawmakers contacted Thursday, after two major stadium developments this week, generally were pessimistic about stadium chances. Some said a special session is not appropriate for a stadium issue.

In the past, rural lawmakers have been critical in stadium votes, especially for the 2-year-old Twins baseball facility. This year, Lanning and Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, are the main stadium sponsors.

While there is rural support from many for a Vikings' stadium, there also are plenty of unanswered questions that supporters fear could delay or kill a stadium bid.

The Vikings want a $1 billion-plus stadium at a former ammunition factory site in the northern Ramsey County community of Arden Hills. A report released Wednesday raises questions about the cost of cleaning up the site, if work can be completed quickly enough for the Vikings and whether preliminary plans include enough money.

A Monday night vote by a Ramsey County committee to not require the public to approve a new sales tax to help finance the stadium runs against an attitude of many in the Legislature that the public should vote on any tax plan.

With all the questions, a special session may need to wait.

"I don't think anything can be done until there is a final package," Sen. John Howe, R-Red Wing, said.

"Under the right set of circumstances, the right details and the right financing package," Howe said he could see some Republican Senate support for a stadium, but in no case would it be overwhelming.

Lanning said a special session would need to convene by Thanksgiving, before lawmakers' schedules make it impossible to coordinate a time.

"It is going to be a bit more difficult to do it next session," he added, when some legislative leaders predict lawmakers will be finished in April.

Besides plans for a short session, the fact that 2012 is an election year likely will make a stadium vote tougher to cast. Many Minnesotans object to state involvement in a stadium and many incumbents fear a pro-stadium vote would come back to haunt them on election day.

Also, lawmakers' attention will turn away from a stadium on Feb. 21, the day a judicial panel plans to release new legislative district maps.

"Once those plans come out, pretty much everything else ends," veteran Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, said.

Redistricting, elections and economic woes will combine to hurt stadium chances, Stumpf added. "You have all three pressure points that will almost paralyze the Legislature."

Many rural lawmakers said their constituents are split on the stadium issue.

"I get just as many comments asking me to support the stadium as I do asking me not to support the stadium because the state has so many other pressing needs," Anzelc said.

Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, said about 70 percent of his continents oppose any state funding for a stadium, but at the same time want Minnesota to keep the Vikings.

Lanning predicted that team owners will sell the Vikings if they do not get a new stadium.