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Don Davis, Forum News Service, Published January 22 2012

Minnesota Political Notebook: Dayton says racino money not going to come quickly

ST. PAUL - Gov. Mark Dayton says if stadium supporters count on racino money, they should not bet on quick money.

The governor said racino likely would be tied up in court for years if lawmakers decide that’s the way to fund a new Vikings stadium. Minnesota’s American Indian tribes probably would file a legal challenge over the proposal to allow the state’s two horse-racing tracks to add slot machines.

The tribes and state have a long-standing agreement, which the state cannot break, that gives tribal casinos a monopoly. But racino supporters say the machines would be part of the state lottery, which would be allowed.

The governor said the tribes would sue to protect their casinos, so the state’s take of any racino earnings would be delayed by what probably would be a long court fight.

Dayton touts allowing electronic pull tabs as his favored form of stadium financing.

The proposal would allow the traditional paper pull tab and bingo games used to make money for charities to use electronic devices. Supporters say the new devices would attract more people, with the state earning $60 million more a year. Charities and bars that host the games also would bring in more money, backers claim.

The new money the state would get is about twice as much as needed to pay off the state’s share of a stadium-construction loan.

Many legislators appear to be willing to consider the e-pull tabs idea, or a related one that would allow state lottery machines in businesses.

Conservation challenges

Two Obama administration Cabinet secretaries were in Minnesota to announce a program to increase conservation practices on Minnesota farms.

Details are to be worked out, but the plan would provide some money and technical advice to farmers willing to use conservation measures such as terraces and buffer strips. The idea is to keep Minnesota waters cleaner.

“Minnesota is a headwaters state for three major watersheds: the Mississippi River, the Red River and Great Lakes,” state Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson said. “That means a rain drop that falls on a Minnesota farm field can end up in the Gulf of Mexico, Hudson Bay or the Gulf of St. Lawrence. It also means that decisions made in management of Minnesota land – whether urban, suburban or rural – can make a difference thousands of miles away.”

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, a former Iowa governor, said 95 percent of farmers already use conservation practices. But, he said, this program will convince them to do even more.

Caucuses approach

Minnesotans gather the night of Feb. 7 for precinct caucuses.

Unlike those in Iowa that gained national attention, Minnesota’s version is more about elected local political leaders than presidential politics. There also will be presidential campaign discussion.

“Precinct caucuses are the first step in selecting candidates for the general election,” Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said. “By participating in their local caucus, Minnesotans make their voice heard.”

Precinct caucuses are open to the public and are organized by political parties. Besides looking at candidates, those attending caucuses will offer suggestions about policies they think their party should support.

Ritchie’s office offers a caucus finder at www.sos.state.mn.us.

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.