Maneuver leads to offer of negotiation on bonding
ST. PAUL -- Minnesota's legislative leaders used a rare parliamentary maneuver Tuesday in an attempt to save what they consider job-producing public works projects.
The procedure to delay giving Gov. Tim Pawlenty the just-passed construction funding bill was designed to provide time to open negotiations between the Republican governor and Democrats who run the Legislature's public works funding committees.
Pawlenty, who planned to veto the bill Tuesday afternoon, invited chief public works negotiators to a meeting. A time was not set immediately.
Senators and representatives passed the construction bill Monday night, just after Pawlenty said he would veto the nearly $1 billion plan to build new government facilities and repair existing ones. The bill passed anyway, mostly on Democratic-Farmer-Labor support, and it was expected to land on his desk Tuesday.
In a move House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, called "somewhat extraordinary," top lawmakers exercised rules that allow them to return the bill to the Senate for a "cooling off period."
Sen. Keith Langseth, head of the Senate public works committee, said the procedure was begun to convince Pawlenty to talk about what should be included.
In a letter to Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, and his House counterpart, Pawlenty said he gave lawmakers his public works proposals on Jan. 15 and sticks by them.
"I am also willing to consider adding or subtracting projects from my recommendations in an effort to reach a compromise," he wrote.
At an afternoon news conference, Pawlenty said the public works bill funded too many projects that local communities should handle, including sports facilities and local government buildings.
Since Pawlenty agreed to meet with Langseth and Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, the unique legislative stalling tactic appeared to work.
The governor said everyone can agree on some important issues, such as providing money to fight floods.
"It's prisons, it's the flood mitigation and the basic important health, safety and welfare kinds of things in the bill," Pawlenty said of major issues. "Clearly the flood safety money is in there. ... It would be one of the first things in a compromise bill."
Langseth said he hopes negotiations with the governor's office can occur this week, although a revised bill likely will not pass until March.
Kelliher called on the governor, who returned today from several days in Washington, D.C., to provide specific projects and funding amounts he wants inserted and removed from the current version of the bill.
"Maybe he did not understand how quickly the bill was moving," Kelliher said. "We want to give him a fair opportunity to give us the specific things, the specific spending amounts that he wants to put into the bill and identify where the legislative priorities don't match what he thinks are priorities."
Pawlenty scoffed at the notion, reiterating the several times he has passed his thoughts onto Democratic leaders.
"For them to feign confusion ... is preposterous," he said. "They're just gaming you with that."
Pawlenty argued for a $685 million bill with several items the Legislature left out, especially $89 million to expand a Moose Lake sex offender treatment center. Other priorities include $10 million for upgrading the state's highest-security prison in Oak Park Heights and $9.5 million to improve the Minneapolis veterans home.
Kelliher, who is running for governor, emphasized that the bill, funded by the state selling bonds, would bring more than 20,000 jobs to the state.
"To be able to accomplish this we need to be able to get that done as soon as possible," she said.
The House voted 85-46 for the bill Monday night and the Senate followed 47-19.
Andrew Tellijohn and Don Davis report for Forum Communications Co.