There's $4 million to study the idea of a high-speed rail corridor from St. Paul to Chicago. Rochester gets $3 million to expand the National Volleyball Center. There's even $135,000 for headstones for unmarked graves of deceased state hospital patients.
Projects as disparate as renovations for the Como Zoo polar bear and gorilla exhibit and an anti-terrorism training center at Camp Ripley came closer to becoming reality Tuesday when the Legislature passed a $925 million state construction bill.
Debate in the Senate took a mere 25 minutes before the measure passed on a bipartisan 57-10 vote.
But that easy approval is prelude to what is expected to be a contentious fight with Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who has said $925 million is too much.
Pawlenty has signaled distaste for the measure, saying it needs to be $825 million. But he has not indicated whether he would veto the entire bill or remove specific items with what's known as a line-item veto.
The dispute focuses on whether the $925 million in long-term borrowing would violate a state guideline that limits general obligation bonds to 3 percent of the state's general fund.
The bill passed the House 90 to 42, which would be just enough votes to override a governor's veto. Debate focused on whether the measure, known as the bonding bill, by bursting through debt service limits, jeopardized the state's credit rating.
Job creation mechanism
House leaders portray the bill as a much-needed job creation measure as well as the proper mechanism for bricks-and-mortar improvements for state colleges, parks, roadways and transit corridors, regional centers, and state waterways.
"This bill will put people to work immediately and that's a good thing," said Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, the bill's chief architect in the House.
Following the vote, Hausman suggested Pawlenty could find $100 million in specific cuts from local projects, which he has criticized, but suggested that such cuts would be "painful and not politically expedient" for him.
The Senate author, Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, was even more pointed in criticizing Pawlenty.
"They talk about compromise? He has not moved that much," Glyndon said, pinching his fingers. "Compromise means you move a little and we moved."
Higher ed a big winner
The big winners in the measure include the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system. The U would receive $131.1 million and MnSCU $208.4 million. In addition, the University of Minnesota would be authorized up to $233 million in revenue bonds for the university's biomedical science research facilities.
The bill also funds $38 million for expansion and improvements of the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center, and $70 million for the Central Corridor light rail line linking downtown St. Paul and Minneapolis. There is also money in the measure to study high-speed rail from St. Paul to Chicago and to study intercity passenger rail service between Duluth and the Twin Cities.
But the bill does not include funding for purchasing property for a proposed Lake Vermilion state park, a pet project of Pawlenty's.
During three hours of debate, House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, urged the House to send the measure back to a conference committee, saying it acts as an "ATM machine for DFL pork projects." But that effort failed.
Republican leaders urged defeat of the bill to allow lawmakers to work more closely with Pawlenty or face an inevitable veto.
"Governor Pawlenty, exercise some adult supervision: You need to say 'no' to this bill," said Rep. Paul Kohls, R-Victoria.
But DFLers said Pawlenty has not been a factor in negotiations, saying that Pawlenty has given no indication of what projects he might oppose.
"It's hard to negotiate with a ghost and that's the problem with Governor Pawlenty," said Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia. "The governor thinks there are three branches of government and they are 'me, myself and I.' The governor makes promises and he just doesn't know how to keep them."
Mark Brunswick • 651-222-1636