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Would a tax break for charitable gambling get Kurt Zellers on board for stadium efforts?

So far, the House speaker seems to be walking a narrow path between stadium supporters and opponents.

House Speaker Kurt Zellers has been carefully walking a narrow path on the stadium.

In a press briefing this morning, the speaker of the House continued to hedge on the Viking stadium, reminding folks, “I don’t believe in [public] funding for stadiums.”

Rep. Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, voted “no” on the Twins stadium back in 2006. And, although he endorsed the Gopher project that same year, you could argue that financing a facility for a state university is just a wee bit different than underwriting a major-league sports franchise, which is, after all, a private enterprise.

Presumably, Zellers has been carefully walking a narrow path.

On one side are Republicans who hold their noses at the thought of any new state taxes or increased spending. On the other sit the shrieking hordes of football fans who could blame him for “losing” the Vikings, much as U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy and his fellow Republicans howled that the Truman administration had “lost” China to the Communists in 1949.

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Now, it would seem that he’s half off the hook.

The stadium deal presented last week by the governor, the Vikings and other leaders would entail no tax hike. Nor, in theory, would it boost spending. Money to pay for the bonds that would finance the stadium is slated to come from an expansion of charitable gambling to include electronic pull-tabs and online bingo.

Zellers’ counterpart in the Senate, Majority Leader David Senjem, R- Rochester, has signed on as a co-sponsor of the legislation (even though he admitted he hadn’t yet read it). Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, and House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, announced they will likely support the measure.

So what’s bugging Zellers?  

Well, as near as one can guess, it’s all about the charities.

Zellers said he had worked during college selling pull-tabs for charities. With some passion, he spoke of the good they provide: ambulances, medical assistance and so on.

“Charities are not just a source of revenue for the state,” he added, his voice a bit wobbly with emotion. And he’s unhappy that the stadium legislation will not, so far as anybody knows, provide the tax cuts charities have been demanding. Currently they pay taxes on all their revenues before deducting expenses or prizes.

When compared with their net receipts, their tax rates run as high as 50 percent. For-profit corporations pay a flat rate of 9.8 percent on their net. The charities, according to King Wilson, executive director of Allied Charities of Minnesota, a trade group, would be, if not thrilled, then not unhappy to pay that rate.

The latest plan for charitable gambling seems to offer a modest reduction in those tax rates.

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Zellers’ support of the stadium will be crucial because Republicans would have to supply most of the votes necessary to pass a bill. Judging by the sounds he was making this morning, giving the charities a break might bring him on board.