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Bonding bill faces unfriendly future

ST. PAUL - A bill borrowing almost $1 billion appeared late Monday to be headed for hostile territory, Gov. Tim Pawlenty's desk.

An hour before the House began debate on the public works funding bill Monday night, Gov. Tim Pawlenty sent a letter to lawmakers saying he would veto the entire bill.

The Republican governor told Democratic leaders of the public works funding committees that they "blatantly ignored the requests and concerns voiced by myself, my staff and my administration."

Pawlenty said the public works proposal, to be financed by the state selling bonds, far exceeds the $685 million he proposed.

"You chose not to negotiate with us at all," he wrote.

Democrats, on the other hand, claim it was Pawlenty who refused to negotiate.

The governor claimed that lawmakers' priorities are "misguided" because the bill "leaves out funding for important public safety and veterans' projects."

"Despite failing to fund these key priorities, the bill contains money for improvements in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, enhanced snowboarding and snow tubing facilities at Theodore Wirth Park, various sports facilities and civic center, trail enhancements and other local earmark projects," Pawlenty wrote.

The bill would fund projects ranging from new civic centers to college building repairs.

About a third of the bill funds work on college and university campuses statewide, mostly repair and renovation work, with some additions and new buildings sprinkled in.

It also would put $63.5 million into flood fighting, mostly Red River Valley projects.

The bill also spends $67 million for replacing and repairing bridges.

The bill is a compromise between similar bills earlier passed by the House and Senate. Legislative leaders promised to have the bill passed by February's end.

Despite being too big for the Republican governor, the bill still did not include items most important to Pawlenty:

l $89 million to expand a Moose sex offender treatment center.

l $10 million for upgrading the state's highest-security prison in Oak Park Heights.

l $9.5 million to improve the Minneapolis veterans home.

l Language to allow the state to spend $18 million for a state park along Lake Vermilion.

Pawlenty returns today from several days in Washington, D.C.

The biggest Pawlenty disappointment was in the failure to include $89 million to enlarge the Moose Lake sex offender facility for 400 more patients.

For years, Pawlenty has pushed for tougher sex offense penalties, including proposing the death penalty in some cases. This year, he suggests doubling some sentences, a proposal that left Democrats wondering how that would impact sex offender treatment.

The Moose Lake facility is for sex offenders who have served their prison time and judges decide they are too dangerous to be released. Judges order treatment, but no offender has been released from the facility.

Instead of expanding the treatment facility, the bonding bill requires an extensive study to determine whether more sex offender facilities are needed.

Even with the study, Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, said he thinks the Legislature later this year will approve some improvement at Moose Lake. McClung also suggested a second bonding bill may be needed for that.

Langseth, chairman of the Senate committee that deals with public works projects, said he thinks that spending $61 million on kitchen and treatment facilities is too much. That is what the Pawlenty administration wants spent out of the $89 million.

He was even more concerned about the on-going cost if the facility is expanded, saying it could cost $40 million more a year. Minnesota already commits more sex offenders than any state but one, he added.

The senator complained that Pawlenty was in Washington on a political and official trip during the weekend and Monday, when the conference committee worked on the bonding bill.

"Where is he?" Langseth asked. "We were here."

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

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.