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Don Davis, Forum News Service, Published March 08 2010

Lawmakers ‘very close’ on bonding bill

ST. PAUL – A revised public works funding bill that would spend $986 million on projects across Minnesota is firm, set in stone, ready to pass both the House and Senate in the next few days.

Maybe.

Chief legislative negotiators on the issue said late Thursday afternoon that they had done their best to build a public works bill, funded by the state selling bonds, and a deal they just made would be their final work on the issue. While their proposal would spend far more than the $685 million Gov. Tim Pawlenty wants to spend, they plugged in the governor’s priorities, so he should be happy, they rationalized.

Well, they did chop the $89 million Pawlenty wants to expand a Moose Lake sex offender facility down to $36 million. And they left in sports and civic center projects Pawlenty says are unacceptable.

“They put in as much as they think is wise under the governor’s recommendations,” said Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller,

DFL-Minneapolis.

Pawlenty’s chief negotiator sent a letter to the top legislative negotiators – Democrats Sen. Keith Langseth of Glyndon and Rep. Alice Hausman of St. Paul – saying Pawlenty needs at least $88 million for the Moose Lake project or the bill will be vetoed in full or part.

If Pawlenty comes back with more information about what he sees as acceptable in a bonding bill, lawmakers may go back and change their bill so he can accept it.

However, Pogemiller said, legislators on the Langseth and Hausman committee “think the negotiations are not being very fruitful.”

House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, said the Thursday night bill “is very close to how the bill will be.”

‘Cut it down’

Some legislators say that in this age of cutting government, they need to look at themselves.

So Sen. Gen Olson, R-Minnetrista, and Rep. Steve Gottwalt, R-St. Cloud, have introduced bills to cut the Legislature from 201 members to168.

This year is a good time, Olson said, because the 2010 census will produce new legislative district lines, a logical time to change the Legislature’s size.

“The change would also save taxpayers money,” Olson said.

Minnesota has the fifth-largest governing body in the country, trailing only New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Georgia and New York.

The bill that would shrink the Senate from

67 to 56 members and the House from 134 to 112 would face tough rural opposition. Olson said that will be the bill’s biggest hurdle because rural Minnesotans, especially those in areas losing population, do not want more people in each district.

AURI green

A Crookston-based agriculture research organization’s recent report showing how it helps produce green jobs, those that are environmentally friendly, could help it as it seeks funds.

The Agricultural Utilization Research Institute, known as AURI, says emerging markets such as local food distribution, organics, urban agriculture and alternative farming techniques are areas where it produces results. And a key state lawmaker likes what he sees.

Pawlenty recommends cutting AURI’s budget in half, which officials say would decimate the program. Legislators are looking at how much they would fund it.

Horner leads

A public relations expert appears to be far ahead in the Independence Party governor’s race.

Tom Horner, until recently a Republican, took half of the vote in a monthlong party caucus. Rob Hahn finished a distance second with

16 percent.

Peterson pressured

The Politico Washington news Web site says U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson could feel pressure from his Democratic leaders if he continues to oppose their health care reform bill.

The western Minnesota congressman voted against the first measure when it passed the House last fall, but Politico reports House Speaker Nancy Pelosi may threaten committee chairmen if they don’t vote with her the next time health reform comes up. Peterson is chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.

Peterson and two other chairmen give “the speaker leverage to oust them from those posts if they don’t vote with her on final passage,” reporter Patrick O’Connor wrote.


Davis is a reporter for Forum Communications Co.