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Pawlenty slashes $200 million from bonding bill

  • Article by: MARK BRUNSWICK
  • Star Tribune
  • April 8, 2008 - 6:00 PM

Complaining about "misplaced priorities" that would fund a sheet music museum but not a new nursing facility for veterans, Gov. Tim Pawlenty on Monday slashed more than $200 million from the capital investment bill presented to him last week by the DFL-controlled Legislature.

The Republican governor had raised the prospect of vetoing the entire bill, which funds construction projects and has been held up this year as an important jobs package in a weakening economy. Instead, he reduced it by 13 percent to $717 million, using 52 line-item vetoes. DFL critics contended that he focused the cuts on their districts, particularly in St. Paul.

Vetoes involving projects affecting St. Paul included $70 million from a proposed light-rail corridor between Minneapolis and St. Paul; $11 million for an expansion of the Como Zoo; $24 million for a new Bell Museum of Natural History on the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota, and $5 million for a proposed Asian Pacific Cultural Center.

While Pawlenty was noncommittal about whether the light-rail funding might be included in later budget negotiations, St. Paul officials said the money is needed this year or $450 million in federal funding is in jeopardy. In all, rail and transit projects absorbed nearly 40 percent of the $208 million in line-item vetoes made by the governor.

'About setting right priorities'

In announcing the vetoes, Pawlenty said he did not make them for political or personal reasons.

"It's not about being a Democrat or a Republican, it's about setting the right priorities for the state and living within our means," he said. "There's no personal messages in here for anybody in particular."

But St. Paul legislators were taking the cuts personally, saying the degree of whacks to city projects was a direct attack on House Capital Investment Chairwoman Alice Hausman, calling it a "childish political game." Hausman is a DFLer from St. Paul.

DFLers also voiced concerns that some cuts were retribution for the Legislature's override of the governor's veto of the transportation bill.

"It's so counterproductive. It hurts Minnesota, not just St. Paul," said Sen. Ellen Anderson, DFL-St. Paul. "The governor is playing partisan personal political games with the bonding bill. The political gain for him is to be against what the Democrats are for."

Said Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul: "Every project in St. Paul is vetoed. What has the governor got against St. Paul? What have we done?"

Pawlenty's $717 million total was smaller than what had been anticipated resulting from a line-item veto. In a generally accepted formula, state guidelines recommend that borrowing be limited to 3 percent of projected general fund revenue, a limit that makes the debt more acceptable to bonding houses. That figure was $825 million. Pawlenty said he cut additional projects anticipating a continuing downturn in the economy.

Pawlenty cut $7.7 million from amateur sports projects, including $3 million from an addition for the National Volleyball Center in Rochester and $3 million for a regional sports center in Moorhead. Left in the bill was $38 million for the long-promised Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center, as well as $20 million for a Bemidji Regional Event Center and similar projects in St. Cloud and Crookston.

Also cut was $400,000 for a brass band music library in Chatfield, a proposal that for Pawlenty has become the symbol of the extravagance in the bill.

Negotiations or override?

Not included is a proposal to fund a new state park on Lake Vermilion and a nursing facility at the veterans hospital in Minneapolis, two projects that Pawlenty had pushed, leaving open the possibility of negotiations for an additional bill.

Included in the bill is $28 million to Itasca County for infrastructure improvements for a new Minnesota Steel taconite/steel plant. Also left intact was special funding for biomedical science research facilities at the University of Minnesota.

House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, said no decision has been made about whether to attempt to override the vetoed items, each of which much be voted on separately.

In the Senate, DFLers have more than the two-thirds majority needed to override, but in the House, they would need at least five Republicans to join them. While eight Republicans voted for the bonding bill last week, Pawlenty said that he has spoken to members of the House minority caucus and that he is confident they will hang together on the vetoed items.

Mark Brunswick • 651-222-1636

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