Legislature sends Pawlenty bonding bill

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House chamber
The Minnesota House of Representatives has passed a bonding bill.
MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire

The bill funds construction for college campuses, event centers, clean water projects and transit projects.

It borrows $925 million. The bill spends at least $100 million more than Gov. Pawlenty wants, and he has suggested in recent days that he may veto it.

Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, said she's hoping the governor signs the bill and chooses to line item veto the projects he doesn't like.

"When you think about how far we've come, billions, and it's just the last $100 million," she said. "That is a good tool and frankly, if he does it, he can shape this in exactly the way he wants to go in terms of his priorities in state government."

But line-item vetoing projects could put the governor in a difficult situation. Communities could blame him, and not the Legislature, for taking down certain projects. For example, the governor has said that he opposes borrowing for local events centers but has not specified which ones he opposes.

A spokesman for Pawlenty issued a statement saying the governor would review the bill and consider his options.

"When we talk about the veto it's the political blender. The governor has the choice of chop or liquify," said GOP House Minority Leader Marty Seifert.

Seifert said Democrats in the House were avoiding heavy lifting by not trimming the bill to $825 million. He was unsuccessful in his attempt to send the bill back to a conference committee.

"You can't find $100 million in this bill? And then you're going to say 'Let the governor do it.' Let the governor do the work. Let him offend whatever communities it is in line-iteming. And our answer is do your work, live within your means," he said.

But DFLers in both the House and Senate said they have been doing their work. They said they narrowed billions in requested projects to $925 million with little input from the governor.'

Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, suggested that Pawlenty has been away from the negotiating table for many important items this session.

"The governor thinks there is three branches of government and they're me, myself and I," he said. "And that's the problem with a lot of what's going on here today with this bonding bill, in the transportation bill, whether it's my little mesothelioma bill, whatever."

The bill borrows for several transit projects including the Central Corridor Light Rail Line which would run between St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Supporters, like DFL House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, said the bill will provide jobs to a struggling construction sector. Several Republicans said the bill spends too much and stressed that the private sector, not state government, spurs economic development.

Rep. Sarah Anderson, R-Plymouth, said Democrats were using an "if you build it, they will come" approach, citing the line from the movie Field of Dreams.

"So when you're talking about if you build it, they will come, I think the more appropriate voice that he should be listening to in that movie is when the baseball player asks Kevin Costner "Is this heaven?" and the response is "No, this is Iowa." And that's what I think Rep. Sertich is turning Minnesota into today," she said.

Several Republicans also complained that the bill breaks a long-held tradition of keeping the state's debt under a certain cap. Democrats say Finance officials could structure the sale of the bonds so the state doesn't break the cap.

The chief House author of the bill, Alice Hausman, said she isn't sure what Gov. Pawlenty will do. She has long said that she is willing to meet the governor's demands as to the size of the bill. The Senate author, however, has been steadfast on spending more.

Hausman insisted she had several back-up plans to ensure that a bonding bill, whatever the size, becomes law this session.