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Bonding bill stalls

ST. PAUL - Cutting public works spending to a level Gov. Tim Pawlenty can accept could doom all such spending, the issue's key senator said.

"If the governor gets his way, I don't know if we have the votes" to pass the bill, Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, said Thursday.

Langseth's comment followed a Senate Finance Committee vote that changed a funding bill the full Senate earlier overwhelmingly approved. However, the senator said the changes are about making a point to senators, showing them how many projects they would lose if he cut the size of his bill.

Senators originally approved $965 million in projects funded by the state selling bonds. Langseth lowered the amount to $925 million Thursday, but Pawlenty wants to limit the bonding bill to $825 million.

"We've moved now," said Langseth, the Senate bonding chairman. "It's the governor's turm to move."

It is two against one. Langseth's House counterpart, Rep. Alice Hausman of St. Paul, agrees with Pawlenty on an $825 million limit.

She said that a provision in the House and Senate bills limiting the amount of interest the state may pay for the projects limits state borrowing to $825 million.

Until Langseth, Hausman and Pawlenty can agree on total spending, the bonding bill will remain stalled.

"How can we write a bill without a total?" Hausman asked.

Legislative leaders wanted to push the bonding bill out quickly so construction workers could go to work yet this year. However, on Thursday no one had an idea about when negotiations can begin on a final bonding bill.

Langseth's plan to wake up senators about projects that will need to be pruned in a smaller bill worked on Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing.

The new Langseth bill removed $6 million planned for a Minnesota State Correctional Facility-Red Wing vocational building.

"The war is on," Murphy said, pledging to bring an amendment to Langseth's bill to yank money from Rochester and Anoka projects to fund his Red Wing proposal.

"They have the Irish up in me now," Murphy said.

Other senators also were not happy with changes Langseth made from his original bill. Changes include:

-- Adding $2.3 million for Ridgewater College classroom addition and renovation.

-- Removing $9 million from a program to relieve problems with forest access.

-- Removing all $2 million to begin a Capitol restoration project.

-- Cutting $1 million out of $4 million from Moorhead and Rochester volleyball centers.

-- Adding $400,000 to demolish the Ah Gwah Ching state hospital so Cass County can use the land.

-- Removing $2 million of $25 million assigned to build the Bemidji Regional Event Center.

State colleges and universities, a major recipient of bonding money, would not be cut under the new Langseth proposal.

On Thursday, Hausman and Langseth neither knew the next step in finishing a bonding bill.

"If this goes to the floor, it is to make a statement to the position we are in," Langseth said. "It is a long, long way from passing."

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.
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