Racino bill stables in Senate education committee

/ 22 March 2012 / jennifer

T.W. Budig, ECM Publishers, March 22, 2012 –

A racino bill today (March 22) was laid-over in the Senate Education Committee, giving credence to often-heard comments by veteran lawmakers that nothing ever really dies at the State Capitol.

Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Gen Olson, R-Minnetrista, brought the racino debate into her committee today (March 22). (Photo by T.W. Budig)</p>

Just short days ago, Senate Majority Leader David Senjem, R-Rochester, took the racino bill into a different Senate committee to see it voted down.

But the bill now has a new Senate jockey, Sen. Al DeKruif, R-Madison Lake, who told the committee that the public supports racino, it’s of vital importance to the Minnesota horse industry, and that the 2,000 slot machines apiece proposed for Canterbury Park and Running Aces Harness Park in the City of Columbus could yield $130 million a year — a Minnesota Lottery official later ticked the number down to $118 million — towards paying down the school funding shifts and state bonding debt.

“For these reasons I’d like to see racino pass this year,” said DeKruif.

Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Gen Olson, R-Minnetrista, said at the outside of the committee hearing no votes would be taken on the bill. Instead, she would lay the bill over for possible inclusion into a committee bill.

But an attempt was made in committee to increase the number of racinos passage of the bill would create from two to three.

Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, attempted to amend the bill to allow for racino at a proposed horse and car track in the City of Hibbing, the Iron Range Racing Complex.

John Fedo, a former Duluth mayor and complex project point man, told the committee that racino was the missing ingredient in a funding package that could build the $50 million project on the 620-acre site within the City of Hibbing.

Sen. Ted Daley, R-Eagan, (right) shares a lighter moment with Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, in education committee today. (Photo by T.W. Budig)</p>

“We’re trying to make the pieces fit together,” said Fedo.

Allowing racino at the complex would translate into an additional $17 million a year towards paying down the education shift,  generate $500,000 in local property taxes a year, and create hundreds of badly needed jobs, he explained.

One project supporter said the Iron Range “struggles to create destinations” to draw visitors to the region.

But the Tomassoni amendment had committee members Sen. Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge, and Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, asking whether a third racino wasn’t indisputable proof of expansion of gambling.

Indeed, Thompson argued the proposal refuted arguments of racino backers that racino was not really an expansion of gambling.

It shows, Thompson argued, racino cracks open the gambling expansion door.

“Why should we stop it anywhere?” he rhetorically asked of other racino projects.

The committee on a 4 to 9 vote rejected the Tomassoni amendment.

One Democratic lawmaker motioned for a vote to table the racino bill.

But Olson indicated that she, as committee chair, had already done that.

Some senators, such as Sen. Benjamin Kruse, R-Brooklyn Park, indicated uneasiness with Olson’s explanation.

If the bill had been on the table since the start of the hearing, what had the committee been discussing? Kruse asked.

But Olson insisted no vote to table was necessary, because she had tabled the bill already.

“It’s essentially a moot point,” she said.

Racino legislation has not been moving in the House.

But Olson’s action keeps it at play in the Senate.