Area lawmaker may hold key to casino bill
ST. PAUL - Rep. Paul Marquart could cast the deciding vote today on whether a bill allowing a new casino survives. The Dilworth Democrat is focused on one thing while he reviews a new casino proposal - what the measure would do for rural Minnesot...
ST. PAUL - Rep. Paul Marquart could cast the deciding vote today on whether a bill allowing a new casino survives.
The Dilworth Democrat is focused on one thing while he reviews a new casino proposal - what the measure would do for rural Minnesota.
He hinted he will offer an amendment to guarantee that rural Minnesota gets its fair share, but wasn't willing to share his plans Monday.
"In rural Minnesota, we have seen property tax increases," Marquart said. "As we look at this new area that we are going to be getting new revenues from, I just want to make sure that rural Minnesota communities are cared for."
The House Taxes Committee is scheduled to vote on a plan to allow the White Earth Band of Chippewa and Canterbury Park horse track in Shakopee to open separate casinos at the track.
Three of the 29 committee members reportedly are undecided - Marquart and Republican Reps. Ron Erhardt of Edina and Ray Vandeveer of Forest Lake. Marquart said two of the three must vote for the bill for it to pass.
The panel had been expected to consider the issue Monday, but bill sponsor Rep. Bob Gunther, R-Fairmont, delayed debate a day because Democrats had not seen a new version. A few minutes later, he told reporters he received the new version from Gov. Tim Pawlenty's just two hours earlier and had not read it himself.
The bill is not significantly different from one Gunther's Jobs and Economic Development Committee passed 7-5 on April 26. It would give White Earth a slightly larger split of the profits than under Gunther's original bill.
Legislators are paying attention to the casino bill because it would provide $200 million to the budget they are trying to craft.
Gunther thinks the plan has enough votes to pass the Taxes Committee, but it will be close.
"It's kind of a throw of the dice," Gunther said.
Marquart said today's vote is a last-ditch effort to find money for Pawlenty's budget.
A week remains in the regular legislative session, and the House is looking for money. If that money comes from a casino or two, Marquart wants to make sure it helps rural Minnesota.
Two years ago, Marquart voted for a racino allowing slot machines at Canterbury. Since then, he has joined the uncommitted because of his fear that rural Minnesota will continue to lose state money.
"No doubt, there has been a target on my back," he said.
Pro- and anti-gambling lobbyists have visited Marquart's office frequently. And he went to Pawlenty's office two weeks ago to discuss casinos.
On Monday, a week before the legislative session must end, Marquart criticized Pawlenty's last-minute effort to revive the casino bill, which has been stalled for weeks. He said it is too late in the session for such a big funding gap to remain. Without a casino, the House and governor's budgets are short $200 million.
President Doreen Hagen of the Prairie Island Indian Community Tribal Council said Monday's casino vote delay is "all politics."
Hagen said the state-sponsored tribal and Canterbury casinos would create the equivalent of a Las Vegas Strip in Minnesota, attracting a large number of gamblers. Besides the two new casinos, Mystic Lake is nearby.
Mystic Lake's owners, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Indian Community, would be the big beneficiary, she said.
Hagen's prepared testimony indicated that a new study shows Prairie Island's Treasure Island Resort and Casino would lose at least 30 percent of its revenues if the new casinos are approved.
The 4,000 new slot machines at Canterbury would cost more than 200 Treasure Island jobs, meaning $7 million in lost wages, she said.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Don Davis at (651) 290-0707