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Lillie, others pessimistic of Vikings' stadium chances

Sen. Ted Lillie, R-Lake Elmo, speaks Friday, Oct. 14, at Tropical Ballroom studios. Staff photo by Mike Longaecker

Sen. Ted Lillie asked members of the Woodbury business community for a show of hands.

Who, the District 56 Republican asked on Friday, supports spending public money for a new Vikings stadium? Not a hand went up.

He rephrased. Who supports not spending public money on a Vikings stadium?

Nearly every hand in the 25-person group of Woodbury Chamber of Commerce members shot up.

The informal poll illustrated attitudes that Lillie said are also reflected at the Capitol.

Lillie, a freshman lawmaker from Lake Elmo, said there is waning support among lawmakers who next year could be asked to vote on funding measures for a new Vikings stadium.

Fiscal conservatives won't support putting public dollars toward a private stadium, he said. Meanwhile, he said liberal lawmakers will likely reject a plan that sends public dollars toward a stadium instead of education or health care.

"You lose a vast group on both sides of the issue," Lillie said.

And when it comes time to count up the votes - a job Lillie is tasked with as majority House whip - the bill would probably come up short.

"You don't have the votes," he said. "I don't think they're there."

Lillie isn't the only lawmaker with qualms about the future of a new Vikings stadium. Minnesota's rural lawmakers also share doubts and concerns.

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.

Lillie doubted the possibility of a special session for the stadium. If it were imminent, he suspected he would have been called on to count up the GOP votes.

"They haven't asked me yet," he told the Woodbury group.

Rural lawmakers contacted after two major stadium developments last 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.

Gov. Mark Dayton has called for lawmakers to prepare for a special session -- if they can agree to limit its scope.

Dayton's proposal calls for a special session to be completed by Thanksgiving.

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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