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Senate puts more bonding money in schools

ST. PAUL - Minnesota Senate Democrats want to spend more money on college building renovation and other public works projects than the governor, saying success in passing a transportation funding bill freed money for projects they otherwise could not afford.

The bill, which passed its first committee test shortly after senators saw it on Tuesday night, would borrow $965 million, the same as Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty. When combined with cash expenditures, both proposals top $1 billion.

The House has yet to compile its public works plan, known as a bonding bill.

Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, said he expects good Senate support for the bill his committee passed. But drawing up the bill was not easy, he said, because the state received more than $3 billion in requests.

"I can't get a size 20 foot in a size 3 shoe," he said.

The biggest difference between the Langseth bill and Pawlenty's proposal is the governor proposed to borrow $416 million for transportation projects, especially local bridge replacements. But Langseth said that is not needed after lawmakers Monday overturned a Pawlenty veto and passed a $6.6 billion, 10-year transportation funding bill.

"The $50 million we have got in the transportation bill for local bridges takes care of all the structurally deficient bridges," Langseth said.

House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, said that including money for local bridges in the transportation bill means some projects Pawlenty left out of his public works proposal - to make way for bridge funding - now will be available for other uses.

But Pawlenty said Tuesday that he wants to keep his transportation figure intact, although he said he is open to a compromise on the issue.

The governor said the $965 million overall bonding figure is bound to shrink. He said he is braced for "bad news" Thursday when his Finance Department issues a new report expected to show a growing state budget deficit.

Langseth said his bill will be ready for a full Senate vote next week. Sertich said he also hopes the House can vote on its as-of-yet-unannounced plan next week.

As usual, the biggest Senate expenditure would go to college and university buildings.

The University of Minnesota system would get $134 million in the Senate bill, while Pawlenty suggested $129 million.

The larger Minnesota State College and University system would receive $271 million from senators, but just $129 million from Pawlenty.

Democrats said that higher education needs more funding, but Pawlenty said MnSCU, in particular, went wild with its requests.

While the Senate would grant $405 million to the two systems, the schools sought $576 million.

Among well-known projects including in the Senate bill was one the governor did not fund - renovation of a school on the Red Lake Indian Reservation. The Senate measure proposes $32 million, down from the $59 million the school sought.

Another well-known item included is the oft-left-out $40 million Duluth Entertainment Convention Center expansion.

Langseth wrote in $30 million for flood relief in many parts of the state, but much of it goes to the west.

Langseth said he fit everything requested in his district into the bill.

Besides flood relief projects in Breckenridge, Oakport Township and elsewhere, Minnesota State University Moorhead did well. His bill includes $8.7 million to renovate Lommen Hall and $267,000 to design a Livingston Lord Library renovation.

Minnesota State Community and Technical College in Moorhead would get $1.7 million for a classroom and library addition.

Also, Moorhead would get $4 million to build a regional soccer field complex.

Northeastern Minnesota would receive lots of projects under Langseth's bill, but the senator rejected the Duluth City Council's No. 1 bonding request.

Council members put sewer overflow storage basins, which would cost the state $12.75 million, at the top of their priority list, trumping the long-sought DECC addition.

"There is more to Minnesota than Duluth," Langseth said of why he left out the basin project.

However, Duluth did come away with $10 million for a civil engineering addition at the University of Minnesota Duluth and $7.3 million for a Lake Superior Community and Technical College health science addition.

Bemidji was a big winner in many ways.

Bemidji State University would get nearly $6 million for a science building addition and renovation.

The Senate would give the city $22 million to build an events center. Langseth said he put that in his bill only after the university reached agreement with the city on use of the facility.

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.