Weather Forecast


Pawlenty bonding bill falls flat with local legislators

WILLMAR -- There appears to be bi-partisan disappointment in Gov. Tim Pawlenty's bonding bill.

Sen. Joe Gimse, R-Willmar, said Monday it "doesn't sound like there's going to be much for Greater Minnesota" in the governor's $685 billion bonding bill.

Gimse said he's "a little disappointed" that Pawlenty didn't include more funding for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities and that Ridgewater's request for $14,300,000 was zeroed out.

Rep. Al Juhnke, DFL-Willmar, said there was "no rhyme or reason" to what projects Pawlenty said included in the bill.

Because projects "all across the state" were left out of the governor's bill, Juhnke said the governor's current bill couldn't get "four votes" in the House

Ridgewater's enrollment is growing and the college needs to upgrade its facilities to accommodate expanding programs, Gimse said, adding that discussions between Pawlenty and legislators could change which projects make it on the final bonding list. An $8.5 million request to build a nursing home in Willmar that would cater to aging veterans with mental illness, was kicked off Pawlenty's list.

But local leaders apparently have plan B in their back pocket that could get the facility built here anyway.

"I wish it were in the governor's bonding bill, but it doesn't dissuade me at all if it's not," said Steve Renquist, executive director of the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission.

Renquist said Monday if the project isn't on the bonding list by the end of the session, the community could offer a unique funding package that could give Willmar an edge over other communities, like Montevideo, that are also seeking to have a veterans home built in their towns but weren't included in the governor's bill.

Under the plan Willmar and/or Kandiyohi County could provide $8.5 million in bonds and build a facility that the state would purchase on a time-sale contract.

Because the state's payments would equal the bond payments, local residents would be held harmless, said Renquist.

Both Gimse and Juhnke said they would continue to lobby for inclusion of the Willmar veterans home on the final bonding bill.

While he hopes the project makes the bonding list, Renquist said, "I don't know that we can count on it being there."

Renquist said the alternative funding option was developed about a year ago but has not been approved by the EDC board.

Since the governor's list is far below the $1 billion the DFL has been eyeing, Gimse said there will be some negotiating taking place before the session ends and the final bonding bill is approved.

Gimse said he hopes compromises can be reached so the governor doesn't veto the entire bill.

Because interest rates are low and construction bids are competitive, Juhnke said it would be "fiscally conservative" to bond for state projects now. A bigger bonding bill could also create jobs by summertime, he said.

Juhnke said he hopes the governor doesn't adopt the "my way or the highway attitude" and leave behind a legacy of vetoing a $1 billion jobs bill.

The one project for this area that did make it on the governor's list came as a bit of a surprise. The Minnesota Department of Transportation's District 8 headquarters in Willmar won approval by Pawlenty. No details on that project were available.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750