/Bonding bill, Take 1; Plan advancing minus Pawlenty blessing
ST. PAUL — After being stuck in neutral for weeks, a bill financing state construction projects is ready for final House and Senate votes on Wednesday. But they probably won’t be the last votes.
Legislators are prepared to send Gov. Tim Pawlenty a bill much bigger than he insists he’ll accept and without some of his public-works priorities.
Sen. Keith Langseth and Rep. Alice Hausman, the Legislature’s lead negotiators, said discussions involving the governor bogged down and lawmakers are moving ahead knowing their bill is in danger.
Pawlenty has the power to trim the bill himself through line-item vetoes, but the GOP governor said the DFL-controlled Legislature shouldn’t bank on it.
"We’ve repeatedly warned them not to assume that and the whole bill could be vetoed on the theory that we’re not going to clean up their bill for them," he said.
The plan authorizes $925 million in general state debt plus millions more that would be paid for out of other pots of money, such as matching dollars colleges must provide. All told, it gives approval to more than $1.08 billion worth of construction.
The bonding bill helps pay for upgrades on college campuses, finances new and repaired sewer lines, bolsters flood control and covers costs for hockey arena and civic center expansions.
The main dispute is somewhat philosophical. Minnesota has long held its debt load under 3 percent of its general treasury spending. Under those guidelines, the Pawlenty administration says the bill shouldn’t exceed $825 million because $60 million in bonds were authorized in the recently enacted transportation finance law.
Langseth and Hausman said they could pass a bigger bill and remain under the cap if the bond sale is spread out over time. The important thing, Hausman said, is giving the green light to construction projects when builders are hurting and interest rates are low.
"In this economy," she said, "putting more people to work right now is a good thing."
Aside from their dispute over the size, there are disagreements over what is included and omitted from the revised bill.
It lacks money for the creation of a new state park at Lake Vermilion and a new Minneapolis veterans home building, both of which Pawlenty wants.
Pawlenty said exclusion of the veterans home was "a reflection of some really deeply misplaced priorities." Langseth said he doesn’t think the $26 million project is ready to go.
Pawlenty’s finance commissioner, Tom Hanson, refused to tell lawmakers at a hearing Tuesday what projects the governor would get rid of to bring down the bill’s size and make room for his priorities.
That’s been a point of frustration to DFL legislators.
"If I was to add up all the projects he said he supported, it would probably be $3 billion," said Rep. Loren Solberg of Grand Rapids.
On the Net:
A full list of projects can be found at http://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/fiscal/files/bond08.pdf