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Pioneer Editorial: Bonding bill battle is far from over

The DFL-controlled Legislature sent Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty on Wednesday a public works construction bill totaling $925 million in bonding. But don't start rejoicing yet at the large number of local projects that are included in the bill, in...

The DFL-controlled Legislature sent Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty on Wednesday a public works construction bill totaling $925 million in bonding. But don't start rejoicing yet at the large number of local projects that are included in the bill, including $20 million for the Bemidji Regional Events Center.

Pawlenty will surely veto the bill, as it exceeds his bottom line of $825 million -- and not a penny more.

While we earnestly hope for good public policy crafted for the benefit of all Minnesotans, the bonding bill has gone the way of partisan politics as most other pieces of legislation the past few years.

Before we even get to the argument of need versus want in the bonding bill, the DFL Legislature and GOP governor can't even agree on the size of the bonding bill. A hand-shake agreement that reaches back into Gov. Rudy Perpich's regime that prohibits general obligation bonds in excess of 3 percent of the state's general fund. Pawlenty says that figure is $825 million, and he won't break a 30-year-old agreement in crossing it. The DFL, however, maintains that the way the bill is structured and debt service provided, it does fall under the 3 percent magic number.

So who's right? Can't an independent and trusted source provide that figure? Can't we at least start on the same page before parting partisan ways?

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The next bit of politics is who will accept the blame? The DFL sent Pawlenty a bill they know he will veto, and then demand that he use his line-item veto authority to stroke out in red the projects he doesn't want in order to reach $825 million. If he does, then the DFL will sit back and watch the governor explain to the Bemidji community why he cut a project that he said he fully supported -- or to any other town he made similar pledges. Pawlenty, however, says it is the Legislature's job to present a bill within the limits (which he set at $825 million) and it's that body's job to make the cuts to reach that level. Then he can sit back and watch DFL House members, entering into an election this fall, explain to constituents why that particular legislator has no power in his party to keep something in the bonding bill.

What it means is that while the current bill has a lot of projects for the area -- nearly $50 million by our count -- the game isn't over yet. Lawmakers probably wouldn't succeed in an override attempt of a veto, so it's bonding bill Version 2. Or even Version 3, or ....

As much as lawmakers want a fast pace and an end, this particular show could go all the way to the May 19 adjournment. So we'll hold our kudos until then.

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