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Public works projects get House OK

ST. PAUL - Leaky roofs will be fixed, flood prevention measures will be taken and building additions will be constructed if a House-passed public works bill becomes law.

On an 84-45 vote, the House Tuesday night approved a bill funding public works projects across the state. The $255 million measure is a far cry from the $1 billion bills lawmakers passed in the last couple of years.

Odd-numbered years such as this normally are dedicated to drawing up a two-year budget, which legislators are doing. However, even in odd-numbered years, the Legislature usually passes at least a small public works bill.

The House bill would sell bonds to fund $135 million of the work and use $120 million of state budget surplus money.

A $307 million public works proposal is scheduled to be debated by senators today. Gov. Tim Pawlenty wanted a $71 million bill; his spokesman said the Senate and House bills are too big.

"This is an important jobs bill," Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, said, because of all the work that would be created.

Hausman, chairwoman of the committee recommending public works projects, fought back repeated Republican attempts to trim spending.

Assistant Minority Leader Tom Emmer, R-Delano, unsuccessfully tried to amend the bill so it spent only $8 million -- $2 million to help Browns Valley recover from recent flooding and $8 million for work in the Corrections Department.

Emmer said the Hausman bill looked like "Washington-style earmarks."

"This is a porkapaloosa," Minority Leader Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, said.

Seifert complained that although the bill was supposed to only fund emergency requests, three-fourths of the projects would not fit that category.

"All of those campuses and all of those communities would beg to differ," Hausman said.

The biggest part of the spending goes to the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities systems for repairs of items such as leaky roofs.

The two higher education systems would split about $70 million.

One of the most-discussed issues has been funding a Duluth Entertainment Convention Center expansion. The House bill includes $30 million of the requested $37.9 million.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty wanted to fund entire amount, while the Senate included $37 million.

DECC funding fell through at the end of last year's legislative session after all sides said they would provide the money.

The bill also authorizes Duluth officials to lease a Northwest Airlines facility that has not been used since 2005.

And the bill requires the Department of Natural Resources to report back to the Legislature a plan to develop Greenleaf Lake State Park in Meeker County.

The also would spend:

-- $2.5 million for the Western Mesabi Mine Planning Board to construct a system to deal with water in the Canisteo mine pit in Itasca County.

-- $2.1 million for anti-flooding projects in Roseau and Browns Valley.

-- $30 million for a loan to renovate Red Lake high school and middle school.

-- $10 million for the state's public television stations to continue their conversion to digital broadcast.

-- $8 million in the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program to take cropland out of production.

-- $200,000 for a Stillwater flood-control project.

-- $1 million for the Big Bog state recreation area in the northwestern part of the state.

-- $600,000 for a digital mapping of the Red River basin.

-- $6 million for Oak Park Heights Prison improvements.

-- $500,000 for early work on the Northstar Express passenger rail line between Duluth and the Twin Cities.

-- $2 million to buy land near Bemidji State University.

-- $1.5 million to improve ports.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.