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Canterbury Park hoping for ‘lights on’ funding

Andrew Offerman, director of racing operations at Canterbury Park, testifies in favor of HF1010, sponsored by Rep. Bob Loonan, left, during the House State Government Finance Committee Feb. 22. The bill would include funding for ongoing operations of the Minnesota Racing Commission if a budget is not enacted before the start of the fiscal biennium. Photo by Paul Battaglia

When DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican lawmakers couldn’t agree on state spending terms in 2011, the 19-day government shutdown put some 19,000 workers out of a job, including more than 1,000 employees who rely on the state-backed Canterbury Park racetrack for paychecks during the busy summer months.

Working its way through the Legislature is a compromise spending proposal that would allow the Minnesota Racing Commission, which oversees Canterbury Park, to operate its central administrative functions even when the government doesn’t appropriate funding to keep the park open. By using industry fees and fines it collects, the racing commission would be able to keep the “lights on” during its short revenue season.

The bill, HF1010, as amended orally, and sponsored by Rep. Bob Loonan (R-Shakopee), was held over Wednesday for possible omnibus bill inclusion by the House State Government Finance Committee. It has no Senate companion.

According to Andrew Offerman, director of racing operations at Canterbury Park, the shutdown was a “detriment” to the local economy. It was, Offerman said, unprecedented for any racing commission to see such a severe blow to its operations and climbing out of the hole proved difficult.

“With no revenue to run for, all of our local horsemen and horsewomen – again, both those from Minnesota and from outside of the state – had no money to pay their bills, to pay the salaries of their employees, to pay money for feed, to pay money for tack – all that made in the state of Minnesota,” Offerman said.

An amendment would adjust funding during budget shortfalls and would give Minnesota Management and Budget additional oversight according to budget forecasts.

Labor advocates representing government workers announced support of the amended bill.

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