DFL Legislative leaders are using a procedural wrinkle to avoid a gubernatorial veto of the $1 billion dollar bonding bill.
The House and Senate passed the bill Monday night after Gov. Tim Pawlenty sent them a letter telling them he would veto it because it was too big and didn't including funding for some projects he wanted. The delay gives both sides another chance to resolve their disagreements about the bill.
Democrats wanted fast action on a bonding bill this session as a way to boost the economy and create jobs. But the large package of public construction projects quickly became a partisan lightening rod. Republicans claimed it was too much debt, too much pork and missing some important projects.
The bill passed both chambers largely along party lines. But instead of sending the bill on to the governor for a promised veto, House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher invoked a rarely used procedure to hold back the bill for further consideration.
"I have asked the chief clerk's office and the revisor office to return the bill to the Senate," she said. "I think it will allow for a little cooling off period here in the next 24 to 48 hours.
Kelliher said her move was somewhat extraordinary, but she added that the high unemployment in the building trades is also extraordinary. She said she wants to do her best to get the bonding bill enacted into law. Kelliher said she wants the governor to provide specific details about the projects he'll support and which ones he won't.
But Pawlenty insists he's been crystal clear about his objections for several weeks. During a news conference that was originally scheduled to talk about his veto of the bill, the governor once again went down the list. He wants the $1 billion proposal trimmed down to about $700 million.
He wants fewer local projects, and he wants three of his priority projects in the bill, including an expansion of the sex offender treatment facility at Moose Lake, and upgrades at the Oak Park Heights prison and the Minneapolis Veterans Home. Pawlenty said there was no confusion about his position, and DFLers just intentionally ignored his input.
"They bloat up the bill because they want to be political Santa Claus. They don't want to say no to anyone," Pawlenty said. "They don't want to be the bad person, so they assume I'm going to line item it down and do their dirty work for them. And I usually do, but this year it wasn't within close enough in range to do that."
Still, Pawlenty said he was glad DFL leaders pulled back the bill to have another go at it. He called it a helpful move. Many Republicans, including Senator Geoff Michel of Edina, complained about the bonding bill coming together in the middle of the night, behind closed doors and without their input. Michael said he hoped negotiators would now take a different approach.
"You know it's only the third week of session. We've got plenty of time to get things done and get things done in an open and transparent way," Michel said. "So I hope that this next stage of the bonding bill will be open and will be transparent and will be be bipartisan."
The chairs of the bonding bill conference committee are ready to get back to work. They sent a letter to Gov. Pawlenty asking for a detailed list of the projects he wants out of the bill and the ones he wants in by Thursday. They also want his assurances that he'll sign the bonding bill in its entirety.