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Pawlenty to veto $1 billion public works bill

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ST. PAUL -- Gov. Tim Pawlenty will veto a public works funding bill a House-Senate conference committee approved Tuesday night, a Republican lawmaker told his colleagues.

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The main point of contention is money for a Moose Lake sex offender facility. Pawlenty wants $89 million and the Democratic-controlled Legislature is offering $47.5 million. The total bill would spend almost $1 billion.

Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker, said that the governor's office told him Pawlenty could accept $60.5 million for the facility, but the entire bill likely will be vetoed at the level the committee approved.

Howes offered another potential scenario: Pawlenty could veto all of the bill except $63.5 million for flood prevention.

Howes tried to amend the bill to include the Moose Lake money, but the motion failed.

The new bill, funded by the state selling bonds, is due for House and Senate votes on Thursday unless Pawlenty and legislative public works negotiators work out a compromise. No talks are planned.

Thursday will be the second time lawmakers have voted on a bonding measure. After the first one, which contained no Moose Lake money, legislative leaders held the bill back, hoping for further negotiations. When they did not occur, lawmakers added the $47.5 million in hopes that Pawlenty would sign the bill.

Pawlenty's office did not respond to requests for comment on the Tuesday night action, including why he needs $89 million.

The Senate's top public works negotiator, Glyndon Democrat Sen. Keith Langseth, said Pawlenty has not compromised since he offered his bonding proposal nearly two months ago. Compromise is what happens in a democracy, Langseth added.

Lawmakers said they do not understand why Pawlenty thinks he needs $89 million for Moose Lake, and they cannot get answers from the administration. When a Pawlenty aide offered to testify about that on Tuesday night, Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, would not recognize him.

Rep. Loren Solberg, DFL-Grand Rapids, said he does not know the difference between the plan today and one four years ago that was listed as costing $47.5 million. He said he could support the proposal if he were convinced that much money is needed.

There was no indication about how lawmakers and Pawlenty would proceed if the new bonding bill is vetoed.

Vermilion future?

Sen. Tom Bakk says that despite Gov. Tim Pawlenty's strong support, the future of Vermilion State Park is dim.

"I'm very doubtful that it ever is going to be a state park," the Cook Democrat told a Senate environment committee Tuesday.

One of his main concerns is the need to spend $20 million to $40 million to develop Vermilion park, along a lake by that name.

Even so, the committee unanimously passed a Bakk bill giving Pawlenty permission to buy the land for $20 million. The same provision is contained in a public works funding bill also making its way through the Legislature.

Pawlenty has put a high priority on Vermilion, which adjoins the existing Soudan Underground Mine State Park.

Bob Meier of the Department of Natural Resources told the committee that the Soudan and Vermilion parks would be operated as one unit, even if they remain separate parks.

The bill also allows local governments to get state payments to replace property taxes that they would have received.

Homeless check-off

A proposal is being floated to add a voluntary check-off on Minnesota income tax returns to provide money for food shelves and homeless shelters.

"Minnesotans are known for their generosity and kindness toward others, especially those who are down on their luck," Rep. John Lesch, DFL-St. Paul. "By streamlining the donating process for shelters and food shelves we are making it easier for our citizens to carry on this tradition."

The idea for donating the voluntary $1 donation came from a St. Paul high school junior.

Bills signed

Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed three bills Tuesday:

-- Setting Sept. 16 as a day to honor the American Legion.

-- Allowing East Grand Forks to put new police officers on probation for a year, like other Minnesota cities.

-- Giving Minnesotans the chance to deduct donations to Haiti this year on income tax returns now being filed.

Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

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