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Maneuver leads to negotiation

Associated press Gov. Tim Pawlenty, with Sen. Geoff Michel of Edina at his side, explains why he does not like a public works finance bill legislators passed. The chief reason he gave Tuesday was that the bill would spend far more than he wanted.

ST. PAUL -- Gov. Tim Pawlenty's promised veto of a public works funding bill did not happen Tuesday because legislative leaders used a rare parliamentary maneuver to hold on to the bill a bit longer.

The Republican governor agreed to meet with chief Democratic negotiators on the bill, which passed the House and Senate Monday night, but there were plenty of words hurled from both sides to indicate an agreement is anything but assured.

Just before debate on the nearly $1 billion bill began Monday night, Republican Pawlenty said he would veto it for being too costly and not including important projects.

The bill passed anyway, mostly on Democratic-Farmer-Labor support, and it was expected to land on his desk today.

In a move House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, called "atypical" and "somewhat extraordinary," lawmakers exercised rules that allow them to return the bill to the Senate for an unknown period of time as a "cooling off period."

Sen. Keith Langseth, head of the Senate public works committee, said the procedure was begun to convince Pawlenty to talk about what projects should be included in the bill.

In a letter to Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, and his House counterpart, Pawlenty said he gave lawmakers his public works proposals on Jan. 15 and sticks by them.

"I am also willing to consider adding or subtracting projects from my recommendations in an effort to reach a compromise," he wrote.

At an afternoon news conference, Pawlenty said the public works bill funded too many projects that local communities should handle, such as sports facilities and local government buildings.

Since Pawlenty agreed to meet with Langseth and Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, the unique legislative stalling tactic appeared to work.

Langseth said he hopes negotiations with the governor's office can occur yet this week, although a new bill likely will not pass until March.

Kelliher called on the governor, who returned today from several days in Washington, D.C., to provide specific projects and funding amounts he wants inserted and removed from the current bill and called on him to actively negotiate an agreeable alternative.

"I think it's fair to say the governor had been out of town for a number of days," Kelliher said. "Maybe he did not understand how quickly the bill was moving. So we want to give him a fair opportunity to give us the specific things, the specific spending amounts that he wants to put into the bill and identify where the legislative priorities don't match what he thinks are priorities. That has to be specific."

Pawlenty argued for a $685 million bill with several items the Legislature left out of their version, especially $89 million to expand a Moose Lake sex offender treatment center.

Pawlenty spelled out four projects he wants to see in the bill in his veto letter:

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

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

• $9.5 billion to improve the Minneapolis veterans' home.

• Language to allow the state to spend $18 million for a state park along Lake Vermillion.

Kelliher called on Pawlenty to provide more specifics so both sides can hash out a deal.

The speaker, who is running for governor, emphasized that the bill, funded by the state selling bonds, would bring more than 20,000 jobs to the state.

"To be able to accomplish this we need to be able to get that done as soon as possible. But we need some specific information for the governor as well."

The House voted 85-46 for the bill Monday night and the Senate followed 47-19.

Tellijohn and Davis report 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.