The Minnesota Senate passed a $1 billion public works bill Tuesday that greatly exceeds a version proposed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who renewed a threat to veto spending that he considers excessive.
The bonding bill passed 52-14. The House will act this week and next on its version.
The Senate bill includes $211 million for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, $139 million for the Department of Natural Resources, $130 million for the Department of Transportation and $111 million for the University of Minnesota.
Much of the Senate debate dealt with priorities. Should the state reject renovation of the Ordway center in St. Paul and Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis so that it can expand a treatment center for sex offenders in Moose Lake? Should the state cancel construction of the Minnesota Planetarium in Minneapolis and use some of the money to complete a park in Sartell?
The debate began shortly after Pawlenty renewed his threat to veto the entire bonding bill if it reflected "misplaced priorities." The governor, who favors a $685 million alternative, chided DFLers for including arts and convention center projects while rejecting money for the sex offender treatment center.
It was a theme adopted by Republican senators. "Public safety first and foremost," said Sen. Claire Robling, R-Jordan. She suggested freeing money for the sex offender program by rejecting proposals for various arts and recreation centers.
Another tradeoff was proposed by Sen. Michelle Fischbach, R-Paynesville, who suggested canceling an approved bonding package for the planetarium in Minneapolis and using $1.3 million of it to complete a city park in Sartell.
Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, balked. "It's taking money from a project that was OK'd in the past ... and shifting it over to the senator's own district," he said.
Early passage of the bonding bill has been touted by DFLers as a way to quickly create jobs. But Republicans challenged the premise.
Others said the bill would add unnecessarily to the debt burden when the state faces a $1.2 billion budget shortfall over the next two years. "Our state credit card is maxed out," said Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina.
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