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Don Davis, Forum News Service, Published February 15 2012

White Earth to announce Twin Cities casino plan

ST. PAUL – The White Earth Nation’s chairwoman plans today to announce details of a proposal to build a Twin Cities casino that could provide fund a new Minnesota Vikings stadium.

The announcement follows December comments by Chairwoman Erma Vizenor, who said White Earth and the state could split 50-50 the

estimated $300 million annual profits. Also, she said, the casino could provide $10 million new state taxes annually.

An informal committee headed by Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, and Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, is looking into building a stadium. One of the major sticking points is how to fund it.

Debate also continues about where to locate the stadium.

The Vikings’ lease to use the Metrodome in downtown Minneapolis ended Feb. 1, although this week the team said it would play there at least another year. The team long has said it needs a new stadium to make more money.

The stadium would be used for events other than Vikings games.

With 40,000 members, White Earth is the state’s largest American Indian tribe. While it is based on a northwestern Minnesota reservation, thousands also live in the Twin Cities.

A White Earth website on the casino proposal (www.minnesotawins.com), which says the tribe is the state’s poorest, says its plan is the best because it involves no new taxes.

“Many Minnesotans have told us that they are not satisfied with any of the Vikings stadium funding schemes that have been offered so far,” the site says. “We are creating a solution that not only would pay for the public’s share of the stadium, but would generate money for critical state priorities.”

Other tribes oppose the White Earth proposal.

Among those scheduled to appear at the Capitol news conference announcing the casino with Vizenor are bill authors Reps. Kent Eken, DFL-Twin Valley, and Bob Gunther, R-Fairmount. Also to attend are Mahnomen City Administrator Jerry Carrier and Corry Merrifield, who founded the Save the Vikes organization.

White Earth estimates that casino construction would require 2,500 workers and 2,000 permanent jobs would be created.

The MinnesotaWins website says profits would go to the reservation “where it would fund investments in housing, economic development, health care and education.”

White Earth says it has financing in place for the casino and it would foot the entire bill.

Photo ID advances

The Republican-pushed proposal to require Minnesotans to produce photographic IDs before voting won a Wednesday party-line 8-6 Senate committee vote.

Sen. Scott Newman’s proposed constitutional amendment must receive approval from at least one more committee, but since Republicans control the Senate that is likely.

Newman, R-Hutchinson, said the plan could lift Minnesota’s already nation-leading voter turnout to even higher levels.

“The more confident voters are in our election process, the more likely it is that voters will participate in the election process,” Newman said.

As Newman spoke about voter fraud in other states, Sen. Linda Higgins, DFL-Minneapolis tweeted: “Elections law differs from state to state. Show real voter fraud in MN or drop the bill.”

Beth Fraser of the secretary of state’s office said 150,000 Minnesotans could be affected if voters next November approve the proposed amendment. They would include absentee voters, who she said would not be able to present photo IDs like in-person voters.

“It is not my intent to disenfranchise anyone,” Newman said. “It is my intent to protect the integrity of the system.”

Newman said the Legislature next year will decide details about photo ID requirements if voters approve it.

Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, said he does not like the fact that Minnesotans will have to jump through hoops to receive a photo ID, even if the state foots the bill. The state should not require that for a voter to fulfill a right, he said.

Pay bill now a study

A proposal to require public employees to be paid equivalent to private workers was reduced to a study Wednesday.

Rep. Keith Downey, R-Edina, originally wanted state law to change public pay packages to be close to what private business pays. But during a House committee meeting, an amendment that he proposed gutted the measure.

The House State Government Finance Committee approved the amended bill 12-8, with Republicans in favor and Democrats against.


Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.