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Pawlenty wants smaller bonding bill

Gov. Tim Pawlenty, with Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina, at his side, explains why he does not like a public works finance bill legislators passed. The chief reason he gave Tuesday was that the bill would spend far more than he wanted. Pioneer Photo/Don Davis

Gov. Tim Pawlenty would have vetoed Tuesday the Legislature's $1 billion public works bill -- if DFL leaders hadn't pulled it back.

"We're willing to have some flexibility on the number, but we're not going to have a billion-dollar bill," Pawlenty said Tuesday to State Capitol reporters and in a telephone link to outstate reporters.

Democrats "knew that, they knew it months ago, they knew it weeks ago, they knew it (Monday) night - they don't even believe they were going to have a billion-dollar bill," Republican Pawlenty said.

A legislative conference committee met late into Sunday night to0 hammer out a bonding bill, and then both the House and Senate approved it Monday. Even before it was approved by the Legislature, Pawlenty sent a letter to DFL leaders that he would veto the bill in its entirety.

"They've become accustomed to the pump-up-the-bill, be Santa Claus, let the governor say no model, and we decided not to do that this year," Pawlenty said.

"It's the same thing they do every year," he said. "The bloat up the bill, they want to be political Santa Claus, they don't want to say no to anybody, they break the bank with the number. They don't want to be the bad person, and assume I'm going to line-item (veto) it down and do their dirty work for them, and I usually do. But this year, it wasn't within close enough range to do that."

Bonding committee chairmen, Sen. Keith Langseth of Glyndon and Rep. Alice Hausman of St. Paul, wrote Pawlenty on Tuesday that in recent meetings with the governor, "you never gave us a clear indication of the items in the bill that would cause you to veto the bill in its entirety, nor did you provide a willingness to compromise on items that we consider a priority for the state."

In an unusual move, DFL leaders pulled the bill from the reviser's office and it never went to Pawlenty for his signature or veto.

"We are willing to come to the table and further discuss this bill," Langseth and Hausman said, asking that the governor "provide a specific list of your spending priorities that need to be added to the bill" by noon Thursday.

While Pawlenty said he welcomed the opportunity to rework the bill, he added that the DFL full well knows what his priorities are and that Democrats have so far ignored them.

Pawlenty's $685 million bonding bill "highlighted a number of themes and priorities," he said. "We took great pains to point that out during that announcement and subsequent meetings ... In particular, we said this is a bill that should focus on important and prioritized statewide projects."

For example, Pawlenty's bill provided $4.53 million "to upgrade and modernize security features and perimeter enforcement at the Oak Park Heights prison," he said. "This is a Level 5 maximum security prison that houses the worst of the worst criminals in the state ..."

The project is key in the public safety area. Pawlenty said. :My friends in the Legislature, however, did not fund that. They thought it would be more important to do snowboarding and snow-making machines a the Theodore Wirth Parkway, or to have a sports complex on the Iron Range, or have an Arrowwood Event Center."

Pawlenty also requested $96 million to expand sex offender facilities at Moose Lake. "we need sufficient capacity to detain serious and menacing sex offenders in our state ... That project was also not funded by Legislature."

He blasted the DFL for including projects of a mostly local nature, saying state law calls for projects of a statewide or at least regional impact.

"An example is a public safety facility in Princeton," the GOP governor said. "It's nice for the city of Princeton to get a new public safety facility, but the city of Princeton and surrounding community need to fund those types of facilities."

While Pawlenty's bill calls for $685 million in general obligation bonding, he said the budget forecast will allow for $725 million, perhaps setting a ceiling on far he's willing to go.

Pawlenty also blasted the process, with the conference committee meeting "behind closed doors" late Sunday and hitting the House and Senate floors on Monday. Pawlenty said he had staff on hand for consultation but received no calls from the DFL.

He did call the DFL pulling back the bill for further Senate consideration "a helpful move. We appreciate that ... We would very much like to get a bill done as quickly as possible."

Langseth and Hausman wrote that if an agreement on negotiated, "we also need assurances that the bill will be signed in its entirety."

Late Tuesday, Pawlenty resubmitted his $685 million in recommendations to Langseth and Hausman, saying that it is in answer to their request of "a list of specific bonding projects which I would sign into law."

Pawlenty said he "is also willing to consider adding or subtracting projects from my recommendations in an effort to reach a compromise with the Legislature."

The bill includes a number of local projects, including planning and design funds for a new Headwaters Science Center, science and technology upgrades at Northwest Technical College and a Paul Bun ay Trail bridge over Highway 197 in the city of Bemidji.

It also includes Red Lake School District funding and funding at Itasca State Park for University of Minnesota Biological Station improvements.