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New bonding bill big, but with Pawlenty priorities

Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker, checks out a spreadsheet showing how $986 million would be spent on public works projects under a revised plan that the House and Senate may pass next week. Pioneer Photo/Don Davis

ST. PAUL -- The Minnesota House and Senate appear ready to give Gov. Tim Pawlenty more and less of what he wants for public works funding.

A bill negotiators approved at a hastily called Thursday meeting includes much more spending than the governor wants. It also includes Pawlenty's major priorities, but a sex offender treatment center expansion is funded at a far lower amount than he wants.

"We have been listening to the governor's requests and I hope he has been listening to ours," Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, said.

The bill an unofficial committee led by Langseth and Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, passed would spend $986 million, down from a $999.9 million bill the House and Senate passed earlier but far higher than the $685 million Pawlenty recommended. A top Pawlenty aide this week hinted that Pawlenty would consider a bill spending $725 million.

Pawlenty's chief spokesman was not happy with Thursday's action.

"If this is the bill the DFL chooses to pass, the governor will either veto it in whole or use his line-item veto authority to bring it down to size," Brian McClung said.

The governor has the power to eliminate individual items from a spending bill.

McClung said the Pawlenty administration is frustrated that the Democratic-controlled Legislature appears likely to approve far less spending on a Moose Lake sex offender treatment facility expansion project than the governor wants.

"We are disappointed the DFL continues to shortchange a key priority, a building to confine dangerous sex offenders civilly committed by the courts, while they maintain funding for lower priority projects like a snowboarding facility at a Minneapolis park," McClung said.

Pawlenty wanted $89 million for the Moose Lake facility, saying that was needed to expand service facilities such as a kitchen and treatment rooms as well as adding beds. House-Senate negotiators put $36 million in for the project, with Langseth saying many lawmakers think Pawlenty wanted way too much.

The new bill leaves unchanged projects for the Bemidji area that were approved in the earlier bill, including $475,000 in planning funds for the Headwaters Science Center and $1.8 million for the Paul Bunyan Trail bridge.

It also includes the $5.85 million for Red Lake schools improvements and $3.67 million for the University of Minnesota's Itasca State Park biological labs and outreach center that were in the earlier bill.

As with the first bill, no funds were included for Bemidji State University's proposed business building and improvements.

The revised bill, to be funded by the state selling bonds, reduced six Minnesota State College and University system projects to provide only money to plan construction work, and eliminated a field house renovation in Worthington. None of the projects were in Pawlenty's recommendations.

The new bill also trims $2.5 million out of out of park and trail projects and eliminates a $5 million Pope-Douglas county waste-to-energy facility.

At the same time, it adds money for some of Pawlenty's priorities such as $9.5 million for a Minneapolis Veterans' Home renovation project and nearly $16 million for security upgrades at the state's Oak Park Heights prison and a new radio system at all Minnesota correctional facilities.

The bill trimmed spending at civic centers and other local projects in Chatfield, Mankato, Minneapolis, Rochester and St. Cloud. Pawlenty had made it clear that he probably will eliminate many projects like that, as well as sports projects that he said should not be funded with state money.

The measure also gives Pawlenty permission to buy land along Lake Vermilion to become a new state park.

The House and Senate had passed the $999.9 million measure, but legislative leaders did not send it to the governor for action, hoping for a compromise. It appears the new bill will go to Pawlenty, even though the governor has problems with it.

Several steps remain before the bill gets to Pawlenty's desk. Because the original bill was held back, a rare maneuver, lawmakers must go through some parliamentary procedures to consider the bill again, including another vote in an official House-Senate conference committee and full House and Senate votes.

However, Hausman and Langseth said they expect the bill to pass in its current form.

"It is hard to know what to expect out of the governor," Langseth said.

Bemidji Pioneer Political Editor Brad Swenson contributed to this story. Don Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Bemidji Pioneer.