Some bonding projects survive, but Pawlenty veto negates all
Many Bemidji area projects made it into the final public works bill approved by the Legislature late Monday night, but all will be for naught as Gov. Tim Pawlenty vows to veto the entire package.
As the bill passed the Legislature, Pawlenty in a letter to legislative leaders from Washington, D.C., said he would veto the measure, which calls for $999.93 million in spending.
"At $1 billion, the bill is well beyond the $725 million anticipated in the most recent budget forecast," the Republican governor wrote. "While you have publicly attempted to minimize the impact of your additional borrowing, the extra $275 million in bonding would cost the taxpayers of Minnesota an additional $419 million in principal and interest over the life of the bonds."
Pawlenty said he would "be vetoing this bill in its entirety." He also blasted lawmakers for not inlcuding his requested $96 million to upgrade sexual offender program space at Moose Lake. Not to do so "represents severely misplaced priorities."
The House passed the massive bill in an 85-46 vote, with the Senate later following with a 47-19 vote.
Among local projects the bill includes $475,000 in planning and design funds to bring up to date 2000 plans for a new Headwaters Science Center. The center had asked for $13 million in construction funds toward the $26 million facility, but the Senate and House included only the planning funds. Pawlenty's budget had no funding.
The conference committee bill now headed to Pawlenty's desk for certain veto did not include $3.425 million in planning and design funds for a proposed business building relocation and expansion. Only the Senate's bill had included that provision.
Included in the bill is $4.8 million to the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities for technical colleges Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Initiative to which Northwest Technical College will see some funding.
The bill also includes $5.78 million for the Red Lake School District to upgrade its high school and middle school, of a requested $34.98 million. The provision was in both House and Senate bills but not included in Pawlenty's bill.
The conference report includes $1.8 million for the Paul Bunyan Trail bridge over Highway 197. Also included is $500,000 for a Shingobee Connector Trail at Walker, down from a requested $1.4 million.
The final bill does not include funding for a Minnesota veterans home at Willmar. The House bill had included $5.525 million.
Also not in the bill is funding for MnSCU land acquisition, of which BSU had hoped for $2 million to repay a loan to the BSU Foundation for the purchase of the former Bemidji High School property at 15th Street. The $2 million was included in the Senate's bill.
"I was disappointed to learn that over $3 million in funding for BSU for the transformation of Memorial Hall into classrooms for business instruction was removed in conference committee, but very pleased the rest of the projects remained intact," said Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji.
"Largely, this bill is about jobs; despite the fact the governor has indicated he will veto this legislation, I hope we can still get a bonding bill passed in time to put people to work this spring," Persell said.
"Legislators knew how important it was to pass this bill in a timely fashion in order to get Minnesotans back on the job, and we worked hard over the past several weeks to get it done," said Rep. Brita Sailer, DFL-Park Rapids.
The House and Senate agreed to fund $3.6 million in significant improvements to the University of Minnesota Biological Station at Itasca State Park, Sailer said. Those improvements will get construction workers back on the job, but will also turn what was a seasonal field station into a year-round facility with full-time jobs for local residents. It will also attract researchers to the facility, boosting the local economy, she said.
"This bill offers immediate job creation, which is crucial," Sailer said. "But it also has long-term employment and economic implications."