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Local projects remain in bonding bill

Bemidji area public works projects approved in February by the Legislature remain intact in the new bill headed Thursday to Gov. Tim Pawlenty's desk.

The key, however, will be how many stay in the bill after Pawlenty has taken his red pen to line-item veto specific projects to bring the size of the $999.7 million bill down to something he can accept. His original bonding bill cost $685 million.

"This job-creation bill is something the Legislature has been working on since the first day of this year's session," Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook, said Thursday. "We're very happy to hear that the governor now is willing to accept some of the Legislature's efforts. The bill still does not include 100 percent of his requests, but it's a common-sense package that still will achieve job-creation and get projects moving."

The governor has three days from the time the bill reaches his desk to act on it, either signing it in full, line-item vetoing objectionable projects and signing the rest, or vetoing the entire package. That work could again come from outstate, as Pawlenty and his family will spend the weekend in Florida, where he is scheduled to speak on Monday in yet another precursor of his potential 2012 presidential bid.

"While we do not yet know whether the governor will sign the full bill or line-item veto some projects, there is more than $63 million in flood-mitigation funding included in the legislation that hopefully will be prioritized," Skoe said

"Everyone understands the threat our region faces this spring as the snow melts and rivers rise. These flood projects are very much needed, and the bonding bill will deliver some of the funding necessary to complete the plans," he said.

The bonding bill will create 21,000 jobs, said Rep. Brita Sailer, DFL-Park Rapids.

"We've got over 200,000 Minnesotans out of work and a spring construction season just around the corner," said Sailer on Thursday. "I'm very pleased that the Legislature was able to pass a bonding bill early in the session.."

Two projects in the bill are in Sailer's House 2B district.

The first is $3.6 million to fund significant improvements to the University of Minnesota Biological Station at Itasca State Park. Sailer said the project will not only 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.

The bill also includes $5.7 million for the continuing improvements of the Red Lake Middle School and High School complex. It will include construction of a single kitchen for use of both schools, which are connected. Red Lake, however, had requested $34.97 million.

Sailer said she will be disappointed if Pawlenty vetoes those projects. The bill passed with bipartisan support on a 89 to 44 vote.

"The governor has once again vetoed compromise and bipartisanship," Sailer said. "He did the same thing to General Assistance Medical Care and to a previous bonding bill. These vetoes hurt our district and they hurt Minnesota."

In Bemidji, $475,000 for planning and pre-design and design of a new Headwaters Science Center remains in the bill, as does $1.8 million for a new overpass trail bridge over Highway 197 in south Bemidji to connect the Paul Bunyan Trail to southeast Lake Bemidji.

The bill includes $500,000 to connect the Shingobee Trail with the Paul Bunyan Trail at Walker.

Not in the bill is funding for planning and design of Bemidji State University's proposed business building nor is $2 million for land acquisition to allow the BSU Foundation to be paid for its loan to purchase the old Bemidji High School at 15th Street and demolish it.

The bill includes $3.22 million for system wide Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics program renovations, including at BSU and Northwest Technical College.