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Thursday, June 23, 2011
Vikings stadium: Heading for a scramble?

By Kevin Seifert
ESPN.com

An online petition fraught with political considerations is asking the government in Minnesota to require the Minnesota Vikings to build a new stadium in downtown Minneapolis or St. Paul, rather than in suburban Arden Hills, and that the team and its stadium users cover the project's full cost.

The petition, which had more than 1,100 signatures at the time of this writing, is standard fare in the well-worn public-private fights over taxpayer-financed stadiums. But the text of the petition, written by Shoreview city council member Blake Huffman, makes what I think is at least one fair point: At what point, if at all, will state legislators, not to mention regular Joe citizens, have an opportunity to weigh the full proposal and make their opinions known via public hearings?

Sid Hartman of the Star Tribune has reported that Gov. Mark Dayton will meet Thursday with Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf as the sides try to formalize the proposal while also figuring out how to pay for $131 million in roads. The hope is to finalize the bill and have it in place for a vote during a presumed special session of the state legislature next week.

But the timing is starting to get interesting.

The state's current budget will expire one week from Thursday. To avoid a government shutdown, Dayton will need to call a special session before that point. Would there be enough time to finalize the stadium bill, at least nominally hold a few hearings, enter the special session and then vote on it over the next seven days?

A shutdown might actually give the Vikings and Dayton more time to vet the proposal. But if anything is going to get sacrificed to expedite this process, I hope it isn't public hearings. I don't want to get into a big democracy vs. republic debate, because I realize we elect public officials to govern us without seeking issue-by-issue approval. But I personally think it's fair for people living in Ramsey County -- who would have to pay a 0.5 percent sales tax increase, a $20 car sales excise tax and other fees to help fund construction -- should be given a reasonable time frame to absorb and debate that responsibility.

To be sure, this wouldn't be the first time in history that a major stadium project was shoved down taxpayer throats at the last moment. The last-second scramble might be the most politically expedient way of affirming a stadium, but that doesn't mean we have to like it.