Groups cry foul over bonding bill

There's nothing wrong with Gov. Tim Pawlenty's environmental budget proposals that a few million dollars won't fix, Minnesota legislators heard this week.

There's nothing wrong with Gov. Tim Pawlenty's environmental budget proposals that a few million dollars won't fix, Minnesota legislators heard this week.

A Thursday and Friday parade of hundreds of lobbyists, local officials and others told legislators they need more money for their pet projects.

Now, lawmakers must balance funding decisions of projects ranging from camping cabins to an expanded laboratory to detect bird flu, from building more recreation trails to rehabilitating park buildings, from cleaning up closed landfills to buying land for parks.

The Minnesota Environmental Partnership said Pawlenty shorted 28 projects that it follows.

Pawlenty said in introducing his public works proposals that his recommendations already cost a lot of money, and the state is not rich enough to spend much more. He said that when the state borrows money for public works projects, it must be repaid with taxes.


"It's not going to be an easy bill to put together," a weary Sen. Dallas Sams said after two days of hearings.

Rep. Dennis Ozment said the two committees considering environment and other outdoors-related public works projects have a lot of thinking, and more meeting, to do before the legislative session begins March 1.

Ozment and Sams are chairmen of committees that consider environment and agriculture funding. Thursday and Friday were consumed hearing about construction projects to be financed by the state selling bonds.

When the chairmen get into the overall bonding committees with their proposals, the environment will go up against colleges, roads and state projects.

The Environmental Partnership's testimony most vividly shows the difference between Pawlenty and environmentalists. The partnership wants $411 million for projects it tracks, while Pawlenty's proposals for the same type of projects come to $235 million.

For example, the partnership seeks $5 million to slow erosion along streams and lakeshores; Pawlenty's budget includes nothing. The partnership also wants $34 million to buy and rehabilitate walking and bicycling trails around Minnesota; Pawlenty asks for $2 million.

One need that many legislators say will get more money is fixing park and other aging Department of Natural Resources facilities. Pawlenty suggested spending $2 million, but his own parks officials say there is a $26 million need.

"If you neglect roofs, all that leads to is tremendous loses down the road," Ozment said.


Rep. Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis, said neglecting maintenance will cost the state far more than it would save by bonding for less money this year.

Another example of how paying now would save money later is cleaning up closed landfills, Wagenius added. The state has identified 18 former landfills that need to be cleaned up before pollutants leak into the groundwater, which eventually becomes drinking water. That would cost $33.5 million; Pawlenty recommends spending $7 million this year, enough to clean up one landfill.

Judy Erickson of the Minnesota Parks and Trails Council has been meeting with legislators to sell her projects. She filled half of the committee room with supporters when the committees heard trail testimony.

A Pawlenty administration proposal Erickson likes is to add 73 rustic cabins to state parks -- including four in Maplewood in Otter Tail County.

Sams said lawmakers received more requests for environmental projects over the governor's proposal than in other years. "People see pristine acres that need preserving," he said.

Sams predicted that even though he and Ozment will lobby for more environmental spending, when everything is decided, it won't be much higher than Pawlenty wanted.

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