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Bonding bill still in dispute

Commissioner Tom Hanson of Minnesota Management and Budget Monday defends Gov. Tim Pawlenty's opposition to a big public works bill this year. He met with a House-Senate conference committee considering funding public works projects. Don Davis/Minn. State Capitol Bureau

ST. PAUL - Negotiators assigned the task of funding public works projects across Minnesota have a common problem - money.

The House and Senate don't agree on how much to spend, and Gov. Tim Pawlenty says both want to spend too much. The public works funding measure - commonly known as the bonding bill - was supposed to be wrapped up early this legislative session, but the dispute dragged on Monday when a House-Senate conference committee brought Commissioner Tom Hanson of Minnesota Management and Budget into a meeting to discuss the situation.

Hanson told committee members that bonding bills in odd-numbered years normally are only for emergency situations.

"I just object to that 'normal' times because everyone in this room knows it is not a normal time," responded Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, chairman of the Senate public works committee.

Hanson said Pawlenty would support projects such as repair work on state-owned buildings because they can start quickly. New buildings that take two years to build, Hanson added, would not be as good as producing immediate jobs, one of the bonding bill's priorities.

"Are they going to get in the ground this year?" Hanson said the governor asks.

Pawlenty wrote a letter to Langseth and Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, the leader of the House public works committee, saying that a tentative agreement to borrow $275 million would produce too big a bill.

The governor also said that more money for flood-prevention projects needs to be included. He said $50 million is needed.

Counties vs. attorneys

Minnesota county leaders say a House-passed bill would be a windfall for attorneys.

A coalition of county commissioners claim the bill, and one like it awaiting Senate action, would give trial lawyers money they do not deserve. The bills would award fees from insurance companies higher than now allowed by law.

"This proposal creates yet another incentive for wealthy attorneys to file questionable lawsuits against insurance companies," Washington County Commissioner Bill Pulkrabek. "Moreover, it places Minnesota insurance law well outside the American mainstream."

Pawlenty blasts

Gov. Tim Pawlenty has taken the offensive against the Democratic-Farmer-Labor-controlled Legislature.

In a letter to supporters, the Republican governor blasted "across-the-board tax increases" lawmakers have passed, created a new higher income tax for the wealthiest Minnesotans and eliminated tax deductions for home mortgage interest, charitable contributions, child care and organ donations.

The governor also criticized legislators for voting to eliminate a property tax increase limit that he pushed last year.

"I am deeply disappointed Democrats would increase taxes when Minnesotans are facing such challenging times," Pawlenty said. "I will veto these tax increases."

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.