Senate approves bonding bill

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota senators passed one of the richest public works bills in state history Thursday, and did it earlier in their legislative session than ever.

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota senators passed one of the richest public works bills in state history Thursday, and did it earlier in their legislative session than ever.

The bill would provide temporary construction jobs across the state and train more people for jobs in colleges and universities, Sen. Keith Langseth said.

"You are preparing people for the job market for the rest of their lives," the Glyndon DFLer said about the heavy emphasis on college and university funding.

It includes all projects requested by Bemidji State University and Northwest Technical College, including $700,000 toward renovations at Sattgast Hall and funding for labs at Northwest Tech.

The Senate bill did not include nearly $30 million being sought to expand the Conservation Reserve Enhanced Program. CREP is designed to remove marginal cropland from production in northwest, southwest and southeast Minnesota. Langseth said money being paid landowners is not going as quickly as expected, and enough funds remain from last year's bonding bill that more does not need to be appropriated this year.


Langseth, chairman of the Senate Capital Investment Committee, earned praise from Democrats and Republicans alike for crafting the bill. The main complaint came from senators who would have liked a bigger bill.

"I wish we had more money," said Sen. Cal Larson of Fergus Falls, the top Republican on Langseth's committee.

"There are a lot of disappointed people," Langseth said, adding that 165 projects received no funding.

Among the not funded was $3 million in planning and design funds for a Bemidji regional events center, an item in Gov. Tim Pawlenty's bill. It does, however, include $15 million for Red Lake Reservation schools, $5 million more than Pawlenty but far less than the $55 million sought by the Red Lake School District.

The bill would borrow $990 million to be repaid by taxpayers, but Langseth's committee received requests for $2.8 billion.

The full Senate approved the bill 56-9, with fiscally conservative Republicans opposing it.

"It's a nearly $1 billion credit card we are maxing out this year," said Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove.

If the economy turns bad, borrowing so much money could trigger a state budget deficit, he added.


Limmer said parts of the public works bill - funded by the state selling bonds - are worthwhile. But spending on parks and other non-essential purposes appears to be in the measure to help lawmakers get re-elected, he said.

The Senate bill includes $1 million for the Paul Bunyan Trail under the Department of Natural Resources' state trail acquisition and rehabilitation initiative. But neither the Senate bill nor the governor fund the city of Bemidji's requests for $2 million for trail land acquisition, $325,000 for trail improvements and repairs, or $500,000 for a trail overpass over Highway 197.

While the Senate passed the measure in short order with little debate, problems loom on the horizon. The Senate proposes borrowing $145 million more than Pawlenty suggests.

The House public works plan has not come out, but Rep. Dan Dorman, R-Albert Lea, said the committee he heads probably will approve borrowing $30 million to $40 million less than the Senate.

Dorman said he likes much of the college and university spending in Langseth's bill, but otherwise may take a different route.

If the House approves its bonding proposal by mid-April, as Dorman wants, the two versions will go to a House-Senate conference committee to resolve differences.

Pawlenty says he will oppose borrowing as much as the Senate approved, and House leaders agree the Senate spends too much.

The bonding bill often is among the last lawmakers pass, but this one came about three weeks into the session.


Pioneer Political Editor Brad Swenson contributed to this story.

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