Flood funding survives governor’s cuts

Published 7:13 am Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Gov. Tim Pawlenty chopped a $1 billion construction projects bill over the weekend by nearly a third while chastising Democrats who run the Legislature.

The Republican governor signed $686 million worth of public works projects into law on Sunday after making 52 cuts that eliminated college buildings, civic centers, trails, transit improvements and other blueprints from Arden Hills to Willmar.

There was both good and bad news for Mower County and southeastern Minnesota.

For the good news, Austin still has a good shot at landing $1.875 million for flood mitigation projects after a large chunk of flood funding survived the governor’s cuts. The $1.875 million would be matched by local-option sales tax dollars.

For the bad news, funding for flood prevention and habitat development for the Cedar River and Turtle Creek watersheds, along with dollars for the Shooting Star and the Blazing Star trails were both line-item vetoed.

Rep Jeanne Poppe, DFL-Austin, said she was pleased with the flood mitigation dollars, but hoped more projects would have been approved.

“I’m disappointed because I think there were many worthy projects that (the governor) did line-item veto, which means fewer construction jobs in the region.”

The bottom line: Gov. Pawlenty approved $1 million more for construction than he proposed in January.

“The DFL-controlled legislature seems incapable of prioritizing projects or simply saying no. So, I have again done it for you,” Pawlenty said in a veto message released on Monday.

Democratic-Farmer-Labor legislators reacted with anger at the depth of cuts.

Two key lawmakers said they are through negotiating even though Pawlenty cracked the door for a second construction bill. Rep. Alice Hausman of St. Paul said the Legislature likely won’t try to override the cuts because House Republicans whose votes would be needed won’t break ranks with Pawlenty.

“I see no point in going any further,” said Sen. Keith Langseth of Glyndon. “Hopefully a year from now in January we will have a governor that we can trust and we will proceed with getting back some of these projects.”

Pawlenty isn’t running for a third term and is seen as a potential presidential candidate.

Spokesman Brian McClung said Pawlenty returned to Minnesota Sunday from a Florida vacation to act on the bill. The governor was slated to be back in Florida on Monday for a Republican Governors Association fundraiser in Orlando.

Alex Conant, Pawlenty’s political spokesman, said his national Freedom First fundraising committee paid to fly the governor to Minnesota to act on the bill.

The construction package is called the bonding bill at the Capitol because the state borrows money by issuing bonds to pay for the projects.

Democrats had hoped Pawlenty wouldn’t slice into their bill at all. They said the full package would have spread state-backed public works projects around Minnesota and employed more than 20,000 people.

On Monday, Hausman said Pawlenty’s cuts will nix 7,000 of those jobs.

“Each veto means thousands of new, family-sustaining jobs won’t be created,” said Shar Knutson, president of the Minnesota AFL-CIO union.

Several projects that survived the cuts stood out.

Even though Pawlenty has questioned publicly whether sports facilities should be funded in tough times, he approved $4 million to expand the National Volleyball Center in Rochester and $950,000 for women’s hockey facilities at the National Sports Super Center Rink in Blaine.

Minneapolis’ Orchestra Hall will get a $16 million renovation, while the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts in St. Paul is in line for an equal amount for a concert hall.

Pawlenty reserved the deepest cuts for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, rejecting three-quarters of the proposed projects, or more than $133 million in borrowing. The biggest project would have been a $42 million science and engineering lab in St. Cloud.

He also erased local projects from civic centers in Mankato, Rochester and St. Cloud to an African-American history museum in Minneapolis and an Asian-Pacific cultural center in St. Paul. He removed funding for the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, an arts center in Chatfield and a renovation of the historic Oliver H. Kelly Farm in Elk River.

Environmentalists were upset that Pawlenty eliminated $25 million to buy up rights to wetlands, rivers and other habitat. Steve Morse of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership said the cut will cost the state $35 million in federal matching money.

Others were holding out for another chance this year.

“We will continue to watch and work with the projects with the best hopes of coming out with something before the end of session,” St. Cloud Area Chamber of Commerce President Theresa Bohnen told WJON Radio in St. Cloud.