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Bonding bill all set ... or not; Republicans want to cut state Legislature to 168 members

ST. PAUL -- A newly revised public works funding bill that would spend $986 million on projects across Minnesota is firm, set in stone, ready to pass both the House and Senate in the next few days. Maybe.

Chief legislative negotiators on the issue said late Thursday that they had done their best to build a public works bill, funded by the state selling bonds, and a deal they just made would be their final work on the issue. While their proposal would spend far more than the $685 million Gov. Tim Pawlenty wants to spend, they plugged in the governor's priorities, so he should be happy, they rationalized.

Well, they did chop the $89 million Pawlenty wants to expand a Moose Lake sex offender facility down to $36 million. And they left in sports and civic center projects that Pawlenty says are unacceptable.

Pawlenty's chief negotiator sent a letter to the top legislative negotiators, Democrats Sen. Keith Langseth of Glyndon and Rep. Alice Hausman of St. Paul, saying the governor needs at least $88 million for the Moose Lake project or the bill will be vetoed in full or part.

'Cut it down'

Some legislators say that in this age of cutting government, they need to look at themselves.

So Sen. Gen Olson, R-Minnetrista, and Rep. Steve Gottwalt, R-St. Cloud, have introduced bills to cut the Legislature from 201 members to168.

This year is a good time, Olson said, because the 2010 census will produce new legislative district lines, a logical time to change the Legislature's size.

"The change would also save taxpayers money," Olson said.

Minnesota has the fifth largest governing body in the country, trailing only New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Georgia and New York.

The bill that would shrink the Senate from 67 to 56 members and the House from 134 to 112 would face tough rural opposition. Olson said that will be the bill's biggest hurdle because rural Minnesotans, especially those in areas losing population, do not want more people in each district.

AURI green

A Crookston-based agriculture research organization's recent report showing how it helps produce green jobs, those that are environmentally friendly, could help it as it seeks funds.

The Agricultural Utilization Research Institute, known as AURI, says emerging markets such as local food distribution, organics, urban agriculture and alternative farming techniques are areas where it produces results. And a key state lawmaker likes what he sees.

"There is a continued effort at the state legislature to create and retain jobs for Minnesotans, as well as to address our energy and environmental concerns," said Rep. Al Juhnke, a House agriculture finance committee chairman.

Pawlenty recommends cutting AURI's budget in half, which officials say would decimate the program. Legislators are looking at how much they would fund it.

Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

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.