Public safety training facility, planning money survive in bonding bill
By Matthew Stolle
While several projects were pared from the bonding list that Rochester sought, six others were ushered in.
For some projects it was a long time coming.
The area’s nearly-decade-long quest to fund a regional public safety training facility in Rochester was finally realized. The $3.6 million project, which will include a burn tower, shooting range and driving range, was sought by area firefighters and law enforcement officials.
Officials have identified land in south Rochester, east of the new Fleet Farm, as the site where it will be built.
Two other big-ticket projects sought by area legislators moved closer to realization. Rochester officials had originally hoped to secure $35 million in state funding to remodel Mayo Civic Center, but settled instead for $3.5 million in planning money. Rep. Tina Liebling, a Rochester Democrat, said the planning money gives Rochester a "foot in the door" for the next bonding bill.
"We’re very pleased that we got the planning money that we did, because it does mean we’re on track to have funding," Liebling said. "I don’t think it’s a bad thing for us to pull back and take another look at how we’re going to do the project."
Also in the bill was $130,000 in planning money earmarked for a new workforce center/secondary vocational training site to be built adjacent to the Heintz Center on the Rochester Community and Technical College campus.
Proposals to build bike trails in the area also fared well. The proposed Bluffland Chester Woods trail ($970,000) and the Great River Ridge Trail ($1.5 million), to be built west of Rochester, survived the governor’s veto pen. The Stagecoach Trail through Mantorville also survived, but an amount it will received was immediately available.
Also spared was $175,000 in planning money to dredge Lake Zumbro.
However, when Pawlenty used his veto pen, he marked large swaths of bonding for elimination. Many projects dealing with mass transit, zoo and museum projects didn’t make the cut.
The governor liberally plucked out projects dealing with mass transit, including $70 million for the Central Corridor light-rail line linking Minneapolis and St. Paul. Pawlenty also shot down a proposal to study the prospect of light-rail line linking Rochester and the Twin Cities.
Liebling said she was disappointed in the governor’s decision to eliminate the train study. Pawlenty has been a strong public advocate for policies fighting global warming, and his action against the study seemed to run contrary to his stated positions, Liebling said
"Now he’s saying we don’t need to study the next generation of transportation in Minnesota," Liebling said. "It’s a relatively small amount of money, but for our community, it’s a huge opportunity and the governor is saying, ‘no.’"
Pawlenty also reiterated his criticism of what he described as the DFL-led Legislature’s "misplaced priorities" in funding a brass band sheet music lending library in Chatfield.
"The Legislature saw fit to fund a sheet music lending library and provide zero funding for a much needed nursing facility at the Minneapolis Veterans Home, and actions like that reflect misplaced priorities," Pawlenty said.
Pawlenty also chastised legislative leaders for busting the cap that would have limited spending on bonding projects to $825 million. Instead legislators submitted a bill with $100 million more in projects.
"That was an unwise move on their part. It reflected a lack of fiscal restraint," Pawlenty said.
St. Paul projects
Yet when the governor pruned away at the bill, he cut more deeply than the cap warranted, eliminating more than $200 million in the bill. St. Paul projects appeared to be particular target of Pawlenty’s pen.
Among them: $70 million for the Central Corridor light-rail line linking Minneapolis and St. Paul, $11 million for Como Zoo gorilla and polar bear exhibits and $24.5 million for a proposed new Bell Museum of Natural History.
Legislators from the St. Paul area stood by stone-faced as Pawlenty detailed his cuts, then unloaded after he left the podium outside his office.
"Everything for St. Paul is gone and I want to know why the governor hates the people of St. Paul," said Democratic Sen. Ellen Anderson. "It’s personal, it’s partisan, it’s childish."
Pawlenty described his line-item veto the Central Corridor light-rail line project as "pulling into the maintenance shed." The governor didn’t use the word hostage, but he signaled that his support for the project would depend on the Legislature behaving.
"We want to pull this project into the maintenance shed for further inspections and to see who into the plans of the Legislature to balance the budget and exercise fiscal restraint," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.