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Analysis: Stadium among most complex of issues

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ST. PAUL -- It seems to be a simple choice, either you support building a new Minnesota Vikings football stadium or you don't.

But, first, you need to decide if you support spending public money. Then there is the tricky question about what exactly is public money.

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And, if you favor public money, what is the source?

Stadium politics is among the most complex issues state officials tackle, even though they have had plenty of practice in the past few decades.

Policymakers have discussed for a decade whether to replace or rehabilitate the Vikings downtown Minneapolis Metrodome home, but for one reason or another did not give it priority.

Now, some leaders feverishly are working to complete a plan before the lease runs out Feb. 1 (although some have begun to question the ending time). Others, meanwhile, feel there is no pressure to hurry and say they can deal with the issue in the regular legislative session that begins on Jan. 24, or wait even longer.

Funding is the key question.

In recent weeks, liberals and conservatives have joined hands to oppose a stadium with any public support, and they specifically fight any gambling proceeds from being used.

"The governor's suggestion that we fund a new Vikings' stadium with predatory gambling dollars is fantasy football, Bernie Madoff style," President Tom Prichard of the conservative Minnesota Family Council said. "It will only drive more Minnesota families deeper into debt, and create thousands of new gambling addicts."

Most Liberal Democratic-Farmer-Laborites also oppose expanding gambling to fund a stadium because it could hurt American Indian tribe casinos. They, and some Republicans, say any new money the state receives should go to education and health care, not an entertainment facility like a stadium.

On the other hand, 31 legislators, mostly Republicans, on Friday gave Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton a letter urging policymakers to allow the state's two horse-racing tracks to add slot machines. Like other expanded gambling proposals, the state would get a share of the revenue.

While the so-called racino has some legislative support, it is unclear if allowing a proposed new casino on downtown Minneapolis' block E has much traction.

The gambling revenue Dayton says is most likely to pass, but is far from certain, is allowing bars to modernize pull tab and bingo games used to raise money for charities. Bar owners and charities say that if electronic devices are used, they and the state would get more money than continuing to feature the current paper-based games.

"If you craft a bill correctly, perhaps that is where the answer is," Senate stadium bill author Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, said.

The question is whether it would be enough to fund a stadium.

House stadium bill author Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, said gambling revenue must be part of the stadium funding plan.

A non-gambling revenue source appeared to lose steam in the past few days. A suggestion to use some money destined for arts and culture programs had been suggested, on the theory that the Vikings are part of the state's culture. Some Republicans who control the Legislature said they wanted to look at the idea, while others such as Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen of Alexandra said that would not mesh with what voters approved in 2008.

"In 2008, it was clear to the public and to me what they were voting for with the Legacy Amendment and the true intentions of these funds," said Ingebrigtsen, chairman of a committee that oversees the revenue. "It was not a new billion-dollar Vikings stadium."

Funding became more complicated on Tuesday, when Dayton and legislative leaders announced that there were not enough legislative votes to allow a local sales tax increase without a public vote. That, in many minds around the Capitol, eliminated chances of a local contribution, which could mean the state is responsible for paying $650 million toward a stadium that could cost $1.1 billion. The Vikings would pay the rest.

Despite all the problems, and with no stadium agreement in sight, the Vikings are trying to stress the issue's importance.

"While we have been encouraged by the efforts of Gov. Dayton and the four caucus leaders to seriously discuss this issue, these recent developments are very disappointing," the team said in a statement. "The Vikings' stadium issue has been heavily debated in the public for over 10 years. With less than 90 days left on the team's lease, the urgency to act is on us."

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

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