A $1 billion plan for state-backed construction projects is headed toward Gov. Tim Pawlenty's desk, though he warned in a letter Monday evening that he'll veto the entire bill rather than scale it back using a line-item veto.
The Republican governor issued his veto warning just as the Democratic-led Legislature took final votes on their marquee legislation of the session. It passed the House 85 to 46, which is not a wide enough margin to override Pawlenty's future veto. That was followed by a 47-19 vote in the Senate.
"The people of Minnesota expect us to spend their tax dollars frugally and wisely," Pawlenty wrote in a letter to the bill's authors. "This bill does neither."
House Majority Leader Tony Sertich criticized Pawlenty's last-minute threat, delivered as the governor was returning from a four-day trip to Washington for a mix of political and official business. Sertich, a Democrat, said the votes would go ahead as planned.
"We stand by our product," Sertich said. "This is typical Pawlenty politics - threaten a veto, veto it and continue with the gridlock. It doesn't serve unemployed Minnesotans, particularly in the trades."
“While they find money for all sorts of trails and recreation centers...they leave out important items like a facility to confine sex offenders.”Brian McClung, Pawlenty spokesman
House and Senate negotiators agreed on the bonding bill early Monday morning that DFL leaders say will create thousands of jobs, but they did not include an expansion of the state's sex offender treatment facility.
DFL leaders in the House and Senate promised fast action on a bonding bill this session in order to get shovel-ready projects underway as soon as possible this spring. They estimate the package will result in more than 21,000 thousand jobs.
It took some late night negotiations to merge the House and Senate bills, but Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, said she was pleased with the result.
"We've done four months of work in one month. We did that because we believed in taking advantage of the full construction season. We believed all of those things that we said," Hausman said. "That's all that we can do is take care of the legislative piece of it, and really beyond that we don't have any control."
What Hausman can't control is Pawlenty, who vetoed all of the bill. The House and Senate topped the governor's bonding proposal by $300 million. Negotiators also left out his biggest project, an $89 million expansion of the sex offender treatment facility in Moose Lake.
Many legislators are questioning the state policies that have quickly filled that facility. Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, said his concern isn't the cost of the expansion, but its ongoing operational costs.
"If we fill up with what it is they want, it will be an extra $40 million a year, $80 million a biennium, when Minnesota is already at the very top as far as civil commitment," Langseth said. "We just need some more time here. We're going to do something, probably this session. But if not, then next session."
Pawlenty criticized Democrats for omitting Moose Lake, as well as two more of his priority projects: upgrades at the Oak Park Heights prison and the Minneapolis Veterans home. Pawlenty spokesman Brian McClung said all three projects need attention this year. McClung said the DFL bill is full of misplaced priorities.
"While they find money for all sorts of trails and recreation centers and arenas and sculpture gardens and the like, they leave out important items like a facility to confine sex offenders," he said.
McClung also accused Democrats of using a closed process that shut out Republicans from shaping the final bill.
That's not how Sen. Paul Koering, R-Fort Ripley, saw it. Koering was one of two Republicans on the bonding bill conference committee. He said he plans to vote for the bill, which includes some important projects for his district.
"I did say several times in the conference committee that, you know, are we reaching out to the administration or the governor's office? I don't think that there was enough of that being done, because ultimately the governor has to sign the bill. So I think that's unfortunate," Koering said.
"But as far as me being shut out, I certainly wasn't shut out at all."
The largest chunk of the bill is directed toward the construction or repairs of college buildings throughout the state. There's also money for flood mitigation, water treatment facilities, parks and zoos.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)