Pawlenty cuts construction bill by $313 million

Brian McClung
Brian McClung, spokesman for Gov. Tim Pawlenty, shows reporters a letter detailing the governor's line-item veto of a $1 billion bonding bill down to $680 million.
MPR Photo/Steve Mullis

Gov. Tim Pawlenty on Monday cut the size of a construction projects bill by $313 million, telling the DFL-controlled Legislature he was "deeply disappointed" leaders hadn't heeded his warnings to pare it down.

The Republican governor eliminated 52 construction projects, to bring the bill passed last week down to $686 million, what he called an affordable level. DFL leaders in the House and Senate say Pawlenty's vetoes went too far.

Pawlenty returned to Minnesota from a Florida vacation briefly on Sunday to remove $313 million worth of projects from the bonding bill.

The governor was slated to be back in Florida on Monday for a Republican Governors Association fundraiser in Orlando.

Alex Conant, Pawlenty's political spokesman, said his national Freedom First fundraising committee paid to fly the governor to Minnesota to act on the bill.

Pawlenty's list of line-item vetoes included several metro transit projects; civic center upgrades in Mankato, Rochester and St. Cloud; parks, trails and 17 buildings at state colleges and universities.

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In a letter to House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher which detailed the vetoes, Pawlenty said he gave DFL leaders "repeated and pointed warnings" that he wouldn't sign a $1 billion bonding bill.

Pawlenty announces budget plan
Gov. Tim Pawlenty stands with state Management Budget Commissioner Tom Hanson at the Capitol on Monday, Feb. 15, 2010.
MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire

"As usual, I have been left to reduce spending within the bill to an affordable level," Pawlenty wrote. "The DFL-controlled Legislature seems incapable of prioritizing projects or simply saying no. So, I have done it for you."

The governor backed off an earlier threat to veto the entire bill after DFL negotiators added some of his priority projects, including $47.5 million for an expansion of the sex offender treatment facility at Moose Lake. But Pawlenty wanted $89 million, and his spokesman Brian McClung said that was a big disappointment in the bill.

"It's not optional. The courts are committing these sexual predators, and they're going to run out of space in two years," he said.

Pawlenty went $1 million higher than his own bonding bill proposal, and $39 million lower than what he said was the maximum amount he could support.

McClung said Pawlenty might be willing to consider another $39 million worth of projects in a second bonding bill later in the session. But he said Democrats would have to have greater Republican involvement in the process and also provide more money for Moose Lake.

The lead House and Senate negotiators quickly rejected the governor's offer. Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, said she doubted there would be enough votes to pass another small bonding bill.

Keith Langseth
Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon said he's frustrated with Gov. Pawlenty's line-item vetoes of the construction bill. Langseth claimed Pawlenty broke a promise to sign a bigger bill. "You simply cannot trust what he says."
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

"If we don't restore all of the other projects, all of those other people who lost their projects would have no motivation to vote for that bill. That's the complexity of crafting a bonding bill," said Hausman. "And so a second go-round, I think, is outside of the realm of possibility."

Hausman's Senate counterpart, DFLer Keith Langseth of Glyndon, agreed. Langseth expressed frustration with the vetoes, as well as with the governor, who he claimed broke a promise to sign a bigger bill.

"You simply cannot trust what he says. So, I see no point to go any further," said Langseth. "Hopefully a year from now in January, we will have a governor we can trust, and we will proceed in getting back some of these projects."

House Republicans wanted a much smaller bonding bill. They sent a letter to the governor last week urging him to eliminate about 80 percent of the projects, for bill less than $250 million.

House Minority Leader Kurt Zellers of Maple Grove said he was glad the governor took some of their suggestions.

"This is what we're hearing from taxpayers all over the state. Take care of the core public safety stuff, roads, bridges, flooding," said Zellers. "But don't spend money on giant spoons and cherries and all the civic centers that were in there, and all the other things that would be nice to have, but don't need to have, when you're in tough economic times."

Several projects that survived the governor's cuts stood out.

Even though Pawlenty has questioned publicly whether sports facilities should be funded in tough times, he approved $4 million to expand the National Volleyball Center in Rochester and $950,000 for women's hockey facilities at the National Sports Super Center Rink in Blaine.

Minneapolis' Orchestra Hall will get a $16 million renovation, while the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts in St. Paul is in line for an equal amount for a concert hall.

Pawlenty reserved the deepest cuts for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, rejecting three-quarters of the proposed projects, or more than $133 million in borrowing. The biggest project would have been a $42 million science and engineering lab in St. Cloud.

He also erased local projects -- from civic centers in Mankato, Rochester and St. Cloud to an African-American history museum in Minneapolis and an Asian-Pacific cultural center in St. Paul.

He removed funding for the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, an arts center in Chatfield and a renovation of the historic Oliver H. Kelly Farm in Elk River.

Environmentalists were upset that Pawlenty eliminated $25 million to buy up rights to wetlands, rivers and other habitat. Steve Morse of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership said the cut will cost the state $35 million in federal matching money.

DFL leaders promoted their bonding bill as a job-creating measure. Its early passage was intended to get as many projects as possible underway this spring. Supporters claimed the entire $1 billion package would have put more than 21,000 people to work.

Rep. Hausman said the governor's line-item vetoes will mean 7,000 fewer jobs. Republicans insist the job impact is far smaller than the DFL estimate.

The bill as signed by Pawlenty is now worth $680 million, which is less than the $725 million he said had been budgeted.