Sore losers April 4, 2003 Republican legislators are suing Gov. Jim Doyle over a gaming compact he negotiated with the Forest County Potawatomi Community. Their reasons? They say the agreement the Democratic governor reached with the tribe is unconstitutional in that it illegally appropriates state funds without legislative approval and impermissibly expands the scope of gaming in the state. That’s their story, anyway, and they’re sticking to it. But it’s a tall tale, if you ask us. We think the move is just the most recent in a series of partisan battles Republican lawmakers have waged against Doyle since he signed the agreement. And we think the real reason behind the suit is that Doyle vetoed two bills that would have given legislators oversight on this and other compacts made with American Indian tribes. In short, we think the Republican lawmakers have their collective nose out of joint and are filing suit not on principal but on politics. If the state was not facing a $3.2 billion budget deficit and all its accompanying problems, the maneuvering could maybe be overlooked. But it’s not business as usual, and this is no time for legislators to play this game. For one thing, the lawsuit carries an unnecessary $62,500 legal bill, and, as Doyle pointed out, the legislators’ misguided action does nothing to fill the budget gap.
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And that’s the main reason the governor signed the compact in the first place. Under the agreement, the Forest County Potawatomi Community has agreed to provide the state with $84 million over the next two years, with annual payments of $34 million every year for 10 years thereafter. To be sure, that’s not a cure-all for the state deficit, but it will generate money not in the budget now. For another thing, the extended compacts — Doyle has said he’s close to signing similar compacts with other tribes — enable tribes to secure long-term financing for building projects. And that, tribes spokesmen have said, could result in $1 billion in construction projects statewide. We’re not just talking casinos here, either. Jeff Crawford, attorney general for the Forest County Potawatomi Community, said the tribes are proposing economic development on a scale unmatched by any other potential owner, including wastewater treatment facilities, day-care centers and museums. So what’s really behind Republican lawmakers’ lawsuit? They maintain that they want oversight because they believe they could negotiate more lucrative compacts for the state. We don’t buy that, as Crawford and other Potawatomi representatives have said they don’t want to deal with our legislators. What we do buy is the theory that legislators want oversight because they feel slighted, left out, and now they’re acting like sore losers because their power play failed. And that we find ironic, as the Legislature gave the governor sole authority to negotiate the deals more than a decade ago. Lawmakers should have been more foresighted and figured that power would some day be exercised.