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Capitol Chatter: Dayton says racino money won't come soon

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

The governor said that racino likely would be tied up in court for years if that is how lawmakers opt 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. However, 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.

If legislators decide they need to get involved in stadium construction, they must decide where the stadium would be located and, a more ticklish problem, how to fund it. In interviews with legislators around the state, racino frequently comes up as a prospect, but the concept has been around for years and never gained enough support to become law.

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

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 is to 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.

Frederickson welcomed the program: "Our goal is to accelerate voluntary adoption of on-farm water-quality practices while at the same time giving farmers more certainty about future requirements for additional conservation measures."

To convince farmers to take part, the program would give them a decade in which they would not be required to follow new water-quality rules.

First the question was whether former House Speaker Steve Sviggum could be a University of Minnesota employee while serving on the school's board of regents. He left the job.

Now, he apparently is under investigation about whether he can be the chief Senate Republican spokesman and aide to Majority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, while remaining a regent. He wants to keep both the $102,000-a-year Senate job and the unpaid regent one.

Sviggum, R-Kenyon, said he talked to key regents and the university attorney, but they say he never specifically asked them about the job Senjem offered him.

"It is important to clarify media reports relating to Regent Steve Sviggum's decision to accept a senior staff role with the majority caucus of the Minnesota Senate," Regent Chairwoman Linda Cohen and university General Counsel Mark Rotenberg said in a joint statement. "Regent Sviggum did not discuss the job or consult about it with either the chair or vice chair of the Board of Regents prior to taking the position. Nor did Regent Sviggum discuss taking this position with the university general counsel or seek his advice about doing so."

Rotenberg will give the board legal advice about whether Sviggum taking the job violates a constitutional provision that requires the regent's job to be non political.

Other former office-holders also are on the board, but do not hold political jobs today.

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

Unlike those in Iowa that gained national attention, Minnesota's version is much more about elected local political leaders than presidential politics. However, 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