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Published February 11 2010

Forum editorial: Langseth’s bill would create jobs

If Tuesday’s action by the Minnesota Senate is any indication, the Legislature is wasting no time addressing the state’s unemployment situation. In the first major vote of the new session, senators overwhelmingly approved a $1 billion bonding bill to fund public works projects. The vote was 52-14. A similar measure is headed for a Monday vote in the House, where it also will pass.

The bill’s champion is Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, who is going one-on-one with Gov. Tim Pawlenty. (In that contest, we give the edge to the senator.) The governor doesn’t like the size of the bill and objects to provisions that fund what he derisively calls “local” projects. Langseth, who ushered his bill through the Capital Investment Committee last week, said the timing is right for a bigger bill because it will generate jobs and will buy more because construction costs are running about 20 percent lower than normal.

The governor is a tad out of touch on this one. While fiscal conservatism usually is desirable, Minnesota needs a state-generated stimulus that will both address neglected public works projects and provide jobs in the depressed construction sector. Langseth emphasized that about a third of the bill’s benefits will go to higher education. A lot will go to other state and local building projects and to flood control.

As for the governor’s objection to “local” projects, he makes no sense. A sports center in Moorhead or Rochester, for example, certainly is local, but so what? People who live in those places will benefit, whether in building the buildings or using them for decades after completion. Do residents of those cities not qualify as Minnesotans? Does Pawlenty want money spent only on projects that fatten state government?

The governor has promised a veto. He wants a smaller public works bill – in the range of $685 million. Maybe Langseth’s $1 billion bill has room for compromise. There hasn’t been much compromise between the DFL majority and the governor in recent years. But the public works bill is too important to get stalled by partisan sniping.

Clearly Langseth and the governor want a public works bill. While they differ on size and focus, they each should be able to give a little for the greater good. If the governor would stop running for president for a few days, and DFLers would put their gubernatorial aspirations on hold for a while, maybe a veto could be avoided. Now wouldn’t that be a refreshing change?

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.