Three of a Kind

The media is reporting this morning that a Republican demand for either slot machines at Canterbury Downs or the construction of one or two state-operated casinos is the primary obstacle to resolving the government shutdown. When it gets down to crunch time, and motivations need to be laid bare, it is always useful to go back and see what previous statements are revealed to have been utter bullshit. Here is a trio from Governor Pawlenty.

Minnesota has a spending problem, not a revenue problem. If this were so, the Republicans would be negotiating for spending cuts, not a revenue enhancer that is opposed by many members of their own party. (For that matter, Pawlenty could urge the House to pass the "lights on" bill approved by the Senate, sign it, and adjourn the Legislature until next year. That would limit spending by wiping out those pesky revenue increases for education.)

Gambling is not a proper function of government. Okay, the hypocrisy of this statement, delivered five months after Pawlenty was elected governor, was revealed months ago when he unveiled his casino proposal. But who would have thought the Guv's 180-degree shift would be so staunch as to become the deal-breaker for resolving the budget stalemate?

The casino proposal is a matter of "gaming fairness." To underscore this point, Pawlenty even titled his gambling expansion plan, "Gaming Fairness," and illustrated his budget speech last January with a bullet point proclaiming that "The 85 percent of tribal members who currently benefit very little from casino faming will gain significant resources." If this was ever true, it's not even close anymore. Two of the three northern tribes Pawlenty was negotiating with surmised that they were being used to divide and conquer the Native American population and backed out of the deal. The one remaining tribe could be frozen out if the final budget resolution includes just a racino at Canterbury.

None of this is particularly surprising. In the very early days of the session more than four months ago, I wrote: "Intentionally or not, the way [Pawlenty] has conducted 'negotiations' with the northern tribes and the wording of his 'Gaming Fairness' plan pave the way for passage of racino legislation much more smoothly than they foster hopes for a partnership casino." In the same story, Red Lake Chairman Floyd Jourdain Jr. remarked "All the tribes know what is going on, that this could be a divide-and-conquer thing."

But it sure comes in handy when you need to raise a bunch of money without removing the fig leaf on your no-new-taxes pledge.

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