Sounding like an exasperated parent, Gov. Tim Pawlenty said on Monday he was going to take the DFL's $1 billion public works bill down to a size he considered more "affordable," cutting it by a third and rejecting dozens of construction projects across the state.

"The DFL-controlled Legislature seems incapable of prioritizing projects or simply saying no. So, I have again done it for you," Pawlenty said in a testy veto message delivered Monday.

Universities, colleges and transit took the biggest hits, with higher ed losing out on $144 million, including a $42 million science lab at St. Cloud State.

DFLers who crafted the bill said the vetoes represent a lost opportunity to take advantage of low borrowing and building costs to make improvements and create jobs.

"He talks about priorities, yet he places such a low priority on higher education," said Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, who chairs the Senate's bonding committee.

Pawlenty, who is on vacation with his family, flew into Minnesota on Sunday to cross 52 projects off the bill before heading back to Orlando, Fla., where he was scheduled to speak at a fundraiser on Monday. Alex Conant, Pawlenty's political spokesman, said Pawlenty's national political action committee paid for his flight to Minnesota from Florida on Sunday.

That prompted this shot from Rep. Tom Rukavina, an Iron Range DFLer who heads the higher ed committee: "Governor, please come back to Minnesota to face the workers and students you are hurting with these vetoes. Unlike you, they can't afford a spring break vacation in Florida and they deserve some answers."

Pawlenty said he was "deeply disappointed" that legislators had ignored earlier, repeated warnings that he would not sign a $1 billion bill.

In the end, he reduced it by even more than an earlier compromise figure of $725 million, despite DFLers having given him key projects he wanted, such as the expansion of the Moose Lake sex offender program.

MNSCU loses big

Pawlenty said he was particularly "troubled" by what he considered the disparity between funding requests for the Minnesota Colleges and Universities system and the University of Minnesota. He cut $134 million in bonding projects from MnSCU, compared with $10.2 million from the University of Minnesota.

"We were surprised by how deep they went, how heavily it fell on us," said Linda Kohl, associate vice chancellor for public affairs at MnSCU.

The sting of Pawlenty's actions was felt across the state.

"This is our third straight veto," said Pat Hentges, city manager for Mankato, on the elimination of $12 million to expand Mankato's civic center. "We're extremely disappointed."

Hentges wasn't alone. St. Cloud and Rochester proposed $13 million and $28 million for civic center projects that also didn't survive Pawlenty's vetoes.

Hentges said he had spoken briefly to Pawlenty a month ago and was told that the three major outstate civic center expansion proposals "were all either going to be in or out."

Dave Kleis, St. Cloud's mayor, said he was shocked that the $13 million to expand his city's civic center was vetoed by the governor -- especially because Pawlenty had earlier authorized $2 million for design and site acquisition.

Kleis, a former state senator, said he had talked with Pawlenty roughly 10 days ago, and city officials assumed the project was "as worthy as it was two years ago." The expansion was first proposed 12 years ago.

Roxanne Givens, who sought $840,000 for an African-American museum in Minneapolis, spoke haltingly of the governor's veto of her project. "You can hear [from] my voice, right? I'm kind of deflated," she said.

Some of the choices were not immediately obvious. Moorhead lost out on $3.5 million for a regional sports center with championship-level soccer fields but Rochester got $4 million for its national volleyball center.

In some cases, Pawlenty's vetoes affect potential federal funding. A $25 million veto for a conservation program that helps maintain wetlands and wildlife habitat cost the state $35 million in federal matching funds.

"I'm very disappointed,'' said Kevin Lines of the state Board of Water and Soil Resources, which administers the program.

'Breach in trust'

Pawlenty came close to vetoing the entire bill last month, prompting DFLers to pull the bill they had just passed. They wound up acceding to most of the governor's demands -- although not in the amounts he wanted -- to avoid a complete veto.

DFLers defended their strategy of concessions Monday, with Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, saying they "operated in good faith" and accusing Pawlenty of a "breach in trust." Pawlenty, in his letter, complained that the legislative selection of projects was overly partisan. "I encouraged DFLers to work with legislative Republicans to gain their support," he said in the veto letter. "That didn't happen." Of the minority Republicans, Pawlenty said DFLers should "understand their concerns and meet their priorities."

DFL leaders all but ruled out any attempt to override the vetoes, saying they doubted they would get the three Republican votes needed in the House to do so.

pdoyle@startribune.com • 651-222-1210 mkaszuba@startribune.com • 651-222-1673