Pawlenty puts Central Corridor back in budget mix

  • Article by: MARK BRUNSWICK , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 30, 2008 - 9:32 PM

But strings are attached. He's also calling for a limit on property taxes and has revived two pet projects: a nursing-care building for veterans and a new state park.

The Central Corridor light-rail line, which has become a pawn in back-and-forth negotiations at the Capitol, is back in a budget proposal made by Gov. Tim Pawlenty on Wednesday.

Pawlenty called, meanwhile, for including two of his own pet projects in any final budget solution: a nursing-care facility at the Minneapolis Veterans Home and a new state park on Lake Vermilion in northern Minnesota.

The governor also called for a cap on property taxes, which his spokesman, Brian McClung, called the "linchpin" of the offer. The cap would limit the ability of local governments to increase levies. That proposal has been floated before but has been rejected by DFL legislative leaders.

In announcing his new budget offer, Pawlenty said his offer moved negotiations "within the range of the doable" as a May 19 adjournment deadline looms.

DFL leaders in the Legislature opposed some elements of Pawlenty's plan but welcomed face-to-face discussions.

Pawlenty's inclusion of the Central Corridor line between St. Paul and Minneapolis comes with strings. DFL legislative leaders must agree that the state's construction costs for the estimated $909 million project be capped at 10 percent or $91 million, whichever is less. Pawlenty also wants the state costs of operating the line to be capped at 50 percent.

In addition, Pawlenty said his offer is contingent on addressing concerns raised by the University of Minnesota, whose officials have suggested that the route be redirected from Washington Avenue.

As authorities await federal funding for the project, the light-rail line remains the most tangible bargaining chip in final budget negotiations. Pawlenty initially approved $70 million in bonding, or borrowing, for the project, but then axed it with a line-item veto from a DFL-sponsored bonding bill.

Pawlenty said that it might not be realistic to resolve the university's light-rail concerns in the next weeks but that there needs to be "an understanding of what the process is going to be to resolve them."

The governor's offers are part of broad negotiations whose objectives include erasing the state's projected $935 mil- lion budget deficit for the 2008-09 biennium.

The rest of Pawlenty's budget plan includes tapping $125 million from the Health Care Access Fund, a fund earmarked to subsidize health care for lower-income Minnesotans. DFL Legislative leaders have said it should remain untouched.

Pawlenty also proposes using $565 million from budget changes, including budget cuts, and $250 million from the state's budget reserve.

In response to Pawlenty's proposal, House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, said it is possible a weekend meeting might result in a broad agreement.

"We should sit in a room, look at each other eye to eye, and get the deal done," Sertich said.

Sertich said DFLers remain adamant that the Health Care Access Fund not be targeted for any budget fix and had some concerns about the Lake Vermilion proposal because a price has not been established as to how much it might cost to acquire the land.

"It's almost like buying a house and going to the seller and opening up your checkbook and saying this is how much money we have, and that's what it's going to cost," Sertich said.

Mark Brunswick • 651-222-1636

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