In a stinging attack on the Pawlenty administration's latest transportation proposals, state DFL leaders warned Tuesday that Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau should resign as transportation commissioner because she likely will not be confirmed when the Legislature convenes in February.
"The lieutenant governor is holding two jobs at the same time," said Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing. "She has done an abysmal job as transportation commissioner. I doubt she will survive the process."
Murphy, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, said that he spoke with DFL Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller of Minneapolis and that a decision has been made to hold confirmation hearings on Molnau's ability to oversee the agency. Last week, Murphy told the Star Tribune that some members of the DFL Senate caucus had concerns about such a showdown because it could impede other legislation from being passed.
Molnau has repeatedly said she will not resign. She did not comment Tuesday.
Murphy's remarks followed reports in the Star Tribune about the continued deterioration of the Hastings bridge. Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Newport, standing with Murphy at the news conference, called for a comprehensive transportation bill that includes the $1.7 billion needed to repair or replace bridges throughout the state.
Pawlenty's $1 billion capital bonding proposal, unveiled Monday, calls for spending 40 percent of the borrowed money on transportation. About $225 million would go toward bridge replacement or repairs, addressing the needs of fewer than one-third of the 1,800 deficient bridges across the state. Pawlenty called his proposal a "historic commitment to bridges in Minnesota."
The tone of Sieben and Murphy's attacks signaled just how acrimonious the debate will be between DFLers and Republicans over the transportation bill. In recent sessions, Senate Democrats have twice passed comprehensive transportation bills that would have partially paid for bridge and road repairs by implementing a new gas tax. Pawlenty vetoed the bills, calling them "onerous."
"Tim Pawlenty has no clue how to fix bridges -- his proposal is smoke and mirrors," Sieben said. "He's trying to look like 'Mr. Transportation,' but he has no plan."
In the case of the Hastings bridge, she accused Molnau's agency of deliberately trying to "cover up and hide" the August 2007 inspection report, which had been kept under wraps by the Minnesota Department of Transportation until last week.
For months, MnDOT said the report would not be released due to homeland security concerns about the fracture-critical structure. MnDOT has not explained why it decided to release the report.
"The MnDOT report, suppressed for the past five months, confirms what we have been saying all along -- this bridge is unsafe and needs immediate attention," Sieben said.
About $2.2 million worth of repairs are expected to begin in mid-April and take up to three months to complete. Murphy said he may fight to get MnDOT to lower the load limit of 40 tons per truck.
Murphy said that MnDOT's earlier decision to withhold the bridge report cheated motorists from being able to decide for themselves if they want to travel over the heavily rusted bridge. "They act like the secret squirrel -- trying to keep it away from the public," he said. "Carol Molnau has it buried in her office."
Paul McEnroe • 612-673-1745