By Brian Bakst and Patrick Condon, Associated Press
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Their goal finally in sight, the Minnesota Vikings summoned star power Wednesday to put extra pressure on state lawmakers nearing decisive votes on public financing for a new pro football stadium.
RB Adrian Peterson, LB Chad Greenway and C John Sullivan lent aid to a franchise lobbying team of nine, which is counting heads for an expected House vote as soon as Thursday and guiding the bid for a nearly $1 billion stadium through its final Senate committees.
In a barely 30-minute visit, the players chatted with legislators and posed for pictures with Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton.
"It's a team effort. We're just showing our support," Peterson said. "Legislators, those guys are really pushing to pass this bill. They have tough decisions to make and discussions to have. We're just here to let these guys know that we support them."
Meanwhile, the stadium bill continued to move closer to expected House and Senate floor votes. It survived the Senate's Finance Committee on a vote of 9-5, but not without complications: The committee reshaped the proposal in a way that its chief author said would cost needed support.
The changes came in the form of an amendment to include state authorization of casinos at two Minnesota horse-racing tracks. That proposal is a longstanding and controversial issue at Minnesota's Capitol, and sponsor Sen. Julie Rosen said linking it to the stadium could hurt her bill's progress.
"I believe it's a serious blow to the bill," said Rosen, a Republican from Fairmont. She said she'd attempt to remove the racetrack casinos from the stadium bill when it comes before the Senate Taxes Committee in a scheduled Thursday hearing.
The House version of the stadium bill has cleared the committee process and awaits a not-yet-scheduled floor vote. House Minority Leader Paul Thissen predicted passage. He said he expected his Democratic caucus to put up votes in the "high 20s to low 30s," leaving majority Republicans to make up the difference needed for a 68-vote minimum.
That created friction with GOP House Speaker Kurt Zellers, who said votes for the bill should be split evenly — 34 Republicans and 34 Democrats.
Prior to giving their assent, the Senate Finance Committee dedicated hours of scrutiny to the state's proposed contribution of roughly $400 million, as well as the public bonds that would be sold to enable construction of a stadium on downtown Minneapolis land that now houses the Metrodome.
A diverted sales tax would generate the city's contribution, the Vikings would be required to round up the remaining $427 million privately, and an expansion of lawful gambling at bars and veterans halls would be the primary revenue source for the state share.
Skepticism about the stability of the gambling money remained high. Republican Sen. Mike Parry said he was uncomfortable relying so much on a funding source that could fluctuate with the economy.
"You have to realize this is based on spendable income," Parry, of Waseca, said during the Senate Finance Committee hearing.
State officials maintain that they have fashioned conservative estimates. They predict spending on gambling would rise at 2,800 locations once new electronic games are introduced.
The bill was headed next to the Senate Taxes Committee, where it was expected to face another tough test. If it survives there, the full Senate would get a chance for an up-or-down vote.
Some lawmakers came off as star-struck as the players made the rounds.
"We're excited to watch you guys this year and we'll keep pushing your efforts forward here and hopefully we'll come up with a solution that works for everybody," GOP Sen. Jeremy Miller of Winona told the trio.
Not everyone was impressed.
"This is so disgusting I can't stand it," said Democratic Rep. Alice Hausman as the players moved through the building's main doors, TV cameras surrounding them.
As the Legislature's session moves into its final days, Dayton has made passage of the Vikings bill a top priority. He argues it would guarantee the long-term presence of a franchise no longer bound by a lease and result in thousands of construction jobs.
The governor met privately with the Legislature's St. Paul delegation, all Democrats, whose support may be at risk after the Senate bill's sponsors watered down a provision to include money for the city to accelerate payments on loans related to the construction of the Xcel Energy Center hockey arena and its convention center.
Dayton said he wasn't too concerned about the bill's stops and starts through the legislative process, calling it "a work in progress." He guessed the final product faced coin-flip odds of reaching his desk.
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