Senators approve $1B for public works projects
Senators approved spending nearly $1 billion on public works projects across the state Tuesday by a vote of 52-14, the first major vote of the 2010 legislative session.
A similar House bill is headed to a Monday vote, and the entire measure could be headed to a gubernatorial veto.
The Senate bill was little changed from one Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, introduced to his Capital Investment Committee last week, funding projects such as college and university repair projects, new buildings and flood prevention.
Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty said that if the DFL-controlled Legislature sends him a bill like either one being considered, he will veto it. He wants a bill costing $685 million.
"When I unveiled my recommendations in January, I clearly stated a successful bill should be affordable, responsible and feature only projects that have statewide impact," Pawlenty wrote to Langseth and his House counterpart, Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul.
The governor was especially upset with projects he called local, such as sports centers in Moorhead and Rochester and community centers in Rochester, St. Cloud and Mankato.
During a nearly four-hour debate, Langseth said higher education facilities, in particular, fare well in his bill.
"It is all going to be done, why not do it now?" Langseth asked, adding that now is a good time to repair and build because construction costs are up to 20 percent below normal.
About a third of the bill goes to state colleges and universities.
Many Republicans complained that repaying bonds funding the projects would cost the state too much money in a tough budget time. But Langseth said that Minnesota's debt load is one of the smallest in the country.
"The state spends more than $1 million a day to service our current debt," Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina, said. "That adds up pretty quick."
Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, said that funding public works projects would create jobs. Added Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing: "Every time we can put someone back to work, they are paying taxes."
House Democrats say they want to hear from the public about how to reform state government, but Republicans say they already are presenting reforms.
"We have been trying to reform government for a decade and been met with a deaf ear from Democrats," said Minority Leader Kurt Zellers,
R-Maple Grove. "We don't need another discussion group, we need action. Our proposals are still on the table and we are still willing to offer them for the good of Minnesota if Democrats are sincerely willing to listen."
Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, on Monday announced a caucus is forming to consider reform legislation. And he is soliciting ideas from Minnesotans.
Among proposals Zellers mentioned is one from Rep. Torrey Westrom of Elbow Lake, who says up to $90 million a year could be saved by turning the prison system over to a private business.
Rep. John Lesch, DFL-St. Paul, is adding his voice to those calling for members of the Minnesota National Guard to receive much-delayed bonus pay.
Lesch, completing his National Guard boot camp training today, said that he wants a 2007 federal promise to Minnesota's Red Bull 34th Infantry Brigade for bonus pay to be upheld.
On Tuesday, a Senate resolution was introduced to encouraged federal officials to make the payments.
The House and Senate are making progress toward allowing Minnesotans who have donated to Haiti earthquake victims to get tax breaks on returns they file this year.
"The Jan. 12 disaster happened so close to the New Year that I believe people should be allowed to report their financial contributions on 2009 tax returns," said Sen. Tax Chairman Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook. "Even though many Minnesotans are themselves struggling they still found a way to reach out to the victims of this horrific disaster."