Touting job creation and higher education, DFLers kicked off the 2010 legislative session with a $1 billion public works proposal that was already drawing partisan rancor.
That's far larger than what Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty proposed and is a signal that DFLers may take a more aggressive stand with a governor who is heading into his final year in office.
DFLers say their proposal could put 10,000 jobs in the pipeline and they plan to fast-track the legislation so that it passes both chambers by mid-month -- a timetable they say would allow some work to begin after spring thaws.
As much as one-fourth of the funding in Senate and House proposals is earmarked for Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, more than twice what Pawlenty proposed. The bills also would greatly outspend the governor on metro transit and fund work on civic centers and arts projects rejected by the governor.
While the House and Senate bills are substantially larger than Pawlenty's $685 million proposal, they lack his single biggest funding initiative: expansion of sex offender treatment facilities.
Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, and Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, who lead the House and Senate bonding panel, said the bills rejected Pawlenty's proposed doubling of capacity at the Moose Lake treatment facility because of doubts about the program.
In justifying the larger bill, Hausman said that "the one bright spot in a bad economy is interest rates are low and bids are coming in low."
House Minority Leader Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, complained that the bonding bills provide "money for civic centers, tennis courts ... but we're not locking up violent sex offenders."
Zellers said he is skeptical of the potential for job creation. "It is good, but it's temporary work," Zellers said of the construction jobs.
Pawenty spokesman Brian McClung said on Thursday that a bonding bill "should contain projects of regional or statewide significance, not pork or projects that should be funded locally." He did not cite examples of pork. Once Pawlenty gets the final bill, he will have the option of using a line-item veto to cut projects or vetoing the bill entirely.
Some of the bigger disparities between the legislation and Pawlenty's proposal:
• Pawlenty would spend $93 million for Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU), while DFLers would spend up to $246 million, including funds for science centers at St. Cloud State University, North Hennepin Community College and Anoka Ramsey Community College.
• Pawlenty wants $53 million for a physics and technology center at the University of Minnesota. DFLers don't.
• DFL bills call for up to $50 million on bus, light-rail and commuter train transit. Pawlenty would allocate a fifth of that -- $10 million.
• DFLers want $14 million to $17 million apiece to renovate Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis and St. Paul's Ordway Center -- projects Pawlenty rejected.
House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, said lawmakers will wait for an updated economic forecast, due later this month, before tackling the $1.2 billion budget deficit.
Those looking for health insurance for the poor weren't waiting. Hundreds of sign-carrying protesters rallied in the Capitol rotunda to ask the Legislature and Gov. Tim Pawlenty to restore the General Assistance Medical Care (GAMC) program that covers 33,000 low-income Minnesotans. Pawlenty vetoed funding for the program last year.
Brock Nelson, president of Regions Hospital in St. Paul, said the cutbacks "will ... force us to either pass those costs on to our other health care consumers or cut services."
Outside Pawlenty's office, Gary Gunkel stood with a small crowd of protesters who held an oversized legislative bill on GAMC they want the governor to sign. "I have not had stable housing for almost a year. ... GAMC was a bridge." said Gunkel, 58.
To cheers and applause, the Senate's newest member, Mike Parry, R-Waseca, was officially sworn in on the Senate floor. Parry won a special election last month to replace retired Republican Sen. Dick Day. "You feel so different," Parry said.
Retiring Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, was all smiles as he greeted a gaggle of Capitol security guards in maroon sport coats outside the House chamber.
"I'm going to go out there in real life," said Murphy, explaining his announcement that he would not seek another term. "[You're thinking], 'About time, isn't it?' "
Darryl Peterson, one of the security guards, stood nearby in his own maroon sport coat that concealed a radio and handgun. "I very much look forward to it," he said of the legislative session's first day. "I enjoy working here. I told them I would do it for free. It's exciting to have a front-row seat."
rachel.stassen-berger • 651-292-0164 mkaszuba • 651-222-0673 firstname.lastname@example.org • 651-222-1210 Staff writer Baird Helgeson contributed to this report.