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Pawlenty 'can work with' bonding bill

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ST. PAUL -- Gov. Tim Pawlenty is looking at ways to chop a public works funding bill down to size and how to expand a sex offender facility on the cheap.

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Pawlenty on Wednesday said he plans to sign a public works bill, which the House and Senate likely will pass today. However, he added, he will trim down the nearly $1 billion spending bill by eliminating recreation, arts and local projects that he does not feel should be funded by state government.

The top Republican House public works negotiator predicted Tuesday night that Pawlenty either would veto the entire bill or dramatically decrease its size. On Wednesday morning, Pawlenty said he opted to use his line-item veto power to reduce spending.

"The bonding bill incorporates most of our key priorities ..." Pawlenty said. "It is a bill we can work with."

In hopes that he would sign the bill, Democratic public works negotiators decided to include Pawlenty's major projects: expanding a sex offender treatment facility at Moose Lake, improving security at prisons, fixing the Minneapolis Veterans' Home and allowing the purchase of land along Lake Vermilion for a state park.

It also spends $63.5 million for flood-prevention projects, which Pawlenty said would remain in the bill. He made that comment Wednesday after surveying Moorhead's work in fighting an expected flood this spring.

Back in St. Paul later in the day, the governor said that he has not decided what projects he would remove from the public works bill, which is funded by the state selling bonds. But he did repeat his feeling that the Moose Lake facility, prison and other public safety issues take priority over arts and recreation projects.

Pawlenty said he will trim the bill to "something more reasonable and responsible and affordable."

Legislators were relieved to know Pawlenty's plans, even if they do not agree with what he will do.

"It's better news than we have had," said Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon.

"I think that is good," added Rep. Loren Solberg, DFL-Grand Rapids. "We already recognize every governor has three options on the bonding bill."

Those three options are signing the bill, vetoing it and vetoing parts of the bill. Also, the governor's administration does not have to sell bonds to fund projects even if legislators approve them.

Solberg has been frustrated, especially, by Pawlenty's insistence on spending $89 million to expand sex offender treatment facilities. Four years ago, the same proposal would have cost $47.5 million, Solberg said, and construction costs have fallen since then.

Solberg, Langseth and others complain that the Pawlenty administration has refused to offer reasons why the cost rose so much.

In meeting with reporters Wednesday, Pawlenty sidestepped questions about the high cost of the sex offender center, what some Democrats have called "Pawlenty's palace."

"There was an extensive design and plan that was done," Pawlenty said, adding that lawmakers funded the design.

The governor said now that he has little more than half of the money he wanted, he has ordered his staff to concentrate on adding capacity for more sex offenders instead of items such as a gymnasium, craft room and, a bigger kitchen.

However, Pawlenty said, the state must meet requirements set by judges.

"It cannot be just like a prison because the courts will not tolerate that..." Pawlenty said. "It is a matter of the courts of deciding what is appropriate for someone in civil commitments."

Sex offenders in Moose Lake have served their prisons terms and are committed to the facility because they are deemed too dangerous to be released. They are supposed to receive treatment, but no offender has been let out of the facility.

The full House and Senate are to vote on the bonding bill today, expecting Pawlenty to quickly veto individual items he does not want.

Pawlenty suggested spending $685 million for public works projects, ranging from fixing college buildings to building trails, far less than the $1 billion the conference committee accepted.

Langseth said that he wants Pawlenty to be careful about trimming the bill. "I hope he gives his pen a rest."

Davis reports for Forum Communications Co., with also owns the Daily Globe.

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Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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