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Bonding package headed to conference committee

Charley Shaw//February 17, 2010//

Bonding package headed to conference committee

Charley Shaw//February 17, 2010//

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Differences in House, Senate bills could slow process

Keith Langseth
Keith Langseth

The House and Senate are rushing into conference committee this week, hoping to make good on the pledge of DFL leaders that an early bonding package – aimed at putting unemployed Minnesotans back to work – will be passed quickly.

But the two DFL-controlled legislative chambers are far apart on several key aspects of their bills, including an expansion of the Moose Lake sex-offender facility and construction projects at public universities.

In addition, the Senate has $20 million more than the House for flood mitigation. The House has $20 million more than the Senate for various transit corridors that are part of the Counties Transit Improvement Board.

Senate Capital Investment Committee Chairman Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, said these differences will make it difficult for conferees to agree on a bill by Friday.

“I suppose the good thing about it is it forces us to make compromises quick. But that’s very fast,” Langseth said.

The House on Monday night passed a $1.1 billion bill by a 92-37 vote. The Senate on Feb. 9 passed a nearly $1 billion bill, 52-14.

Conferees were determined Wednesday. The House Conferees are Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul; Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis; Loren Solberg, DFL-Grand Rapids; Bev Scalze, DFL-Little Canada; and Larry Howes, R-Walker. The Senate conferees are Langseth; David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm; Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul; Ann Lynch, DFL-Rochester; and Paul Koering, R-Fort Ripley.

One of the big differences between the two sides going into conference is funding for construction projects at the state’s public higher education institutions.

The Senate authorizes $111 million for the University of Minnesota while the House figure stands at $77 million. Gov. Tim Pawlenty wants $100 million for the university, of which $53 million is authorized for a physics and nanotechnology facility that doesn’t receive any funding from the House.

The House provides more money for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities [MnSCU] system. The House has $245 million for MnSCU; the Senate, $211 million.

Hausman, who chairs the House Capital Investment Committee, said the House’s major investment in MnSCU is meant to spur job creation. The MnSCU schools, she added, are a critical resource for unemployed Minnesotans seeking to improve their job skills. She also noted that the ‘U’ has fared well in previous years on projects such as the Gopher football stadium and four research facilities.

But the smaller amount has led to accusations that Hausman is retaliating against the university for suing the Metropolitan Council in Hennepin County District Court over the Central Corridor light rail project between the downtowns of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

“It has to do with sending them a message. I wish they wouldn’t. That’s not what the bonding bill is supposed to do,” Langseth said.

Hausman said the university’s litigation against the state concerning Central Corridor was upsetting to her. But she said that was not a factor in crafting the bonding bill.

“If there was payback, there would be nothing for the main campus,” Hausman said.

Another House-Senate difference was added to the bill Monday on the House floor. The House added the $89 million Moose Lake project sex-offender facility expansion as a floor amendment. The Senate appropriated just $1 million to study the project.

The project, which Pawlenty has singled out as a priority, has raised bipartisan concerns due to the rising costs of operating the sex-offender program. Rep. Michael Paymar, DFL-St. Paul, cast a conspicuous “nay” vote on Hausman’s amendment to add Moose Lake to the bill. Paymar is chairman of the House Public Safety Finance Division.

“I think we really need to re-examine as a state our policy on civil commitments,” Paymar said.

Hausman likewise criticized Pawlenty’s prioritizing of the Moose Lake facility, calling it curious in light of his recent proposal to double prison sentences for sex offenders. Keeping offenders in prison longer would  seem to mean less space will be required in Moose Lake for post-sentence treatment.

Both House and Senate majorities support a larger bonding bill than Pawlenty’s $685 million proposal. And six House Republicans on Monday night voted with DFLers in passing the bonding bill.

The Republicans were Jim Abeler of Anoka, Paul Anderson of Starbuck, Greg Davids of Preston, Larry Howes of Walker, Bud Nornes of Fergus Falls and Morrie Lanning of Moorhead.

Lanning said the House bill is too expensive, but added that he couldn’t vote against projects for college campuses and flood mitigation in his district.

“Those are important investments. I can’t turn my back on those even if the bill is too big,” Lanning said.

If Pawlenty vetoes the bonding bill, however, Lanning said he wouldn’t vote to override the veto.

“I will be supporting the governor’s veto. If he goes in and line-item vetoes projects, I won’t vote to override those either,” Lanning said.

Hausman said she isn’t pursuing a strategy of enticing Republicans to break ranks and support an override attempt. DFLers would need all their members and three Republicans to reach the two-thirds majority needed to override the governor.

Hausman said the bill sent to Pawlenty could be the last chance legislators have to pass the bonding bill.

“That’s sort of it. People have to remember 2007, when the entire bonding bill was vetoed. You don’t always get second chances.”

Click through for a side-by-side comparison of the bonding proposals.

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