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Pawlenty wants local bonding restrictions: Red Lake funding

ST. PAUL - Gov.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty

ST. PAUL - Gov. Tim Pawlenty wants more scrutiny on whether to fund local public works projects.

Along with a nearly $900 million public works funding proposal, Pawlenty on Tuesday outlined new criteria he wants used when such requests are made.

The Republican governor's bonding proposal includes $13 million for local projects, but local governments submitted requests for much more than that.

The governor said many of those proposals could not be funded with revenue from the sale of state bonds because they lack regional or statewide impact, as required by state law and Pawlenty's new policy.

Lawmakers in 1998 passed a law prohibiting strictly local projects from receiving state bonding dollars. Still, requests have grown considerably and funding for local projects "ebbs and flows," Pawlenty said.


A disparity exists between Minnesota communities when powerful lawmakers can secure more local-project funding than legislators with less influence, he said.

"There's a certain unfairness that sets in," Pawlenty said.

Pawlenty proposed that local or regional projects meet the following guidelines:

- Supported with at least 50 percent non-state funding

- A referendum is required when local taxes not authorized by current law are used

- There is a clear regional or statewide significance

- Local support is demonstrated

- Projects are ready


The governor's bonding proposal did include $3 million for the design of a Bemidji events center-hockey arena - one of only four local projects included in the plan.

Lawmakers took note of Pawlenty's exclusion of most local requests. Rep. Dan Dorman, R-Albert Lea, said he expects some projects that didn't make the governor's list will end up in the final bonding package.

The Senate Capital Investment Committee chairman said he agreed with Pawlenty that strictly local projects should not be in a bonding bill.

However, the difference is how "local" is defined. Many projects requested by communities are regional in nature, Sen. Keith Langseth said.

Proposals for work on Minneapolis and St. Paul theaters are not in Pawlenty's bill.

"They don't plug anything in for Minneapolis and St. Paul because there aren't any Republican legislators there," the Glyndon DFLer said.

Langseth said Pawlenty leaves out some projects, leaving it up to local legislators to fight for them.

The governor's bonding proposal includes $10 million for renovations to Red Lake schools.


The Red Lake school district had sought $55 million. Pawlenty called his proposal a "placeholder" until the district clarifies project details. It received $18 million in the 2005 bonding bill.

"We have some work to do in getting the plans in sharper focus," the governor said, adding that he wants to work with the district.

Rep. Britta Sailer, who represents the Red Lake Indian Reservation, said she is optimistic that the project will get more than $10 million this year.

"I think that's certainly possible," the Park Rapids DFLer said.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty said lawmakers could go into session as scheduled on March 1, pass a bonding bill and be done in a month. But, as he said, that never happens.

Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, said if today's hearing on the legality of a cigarette fee cuts state revenue $400 million, lawmakers will have little to do beyond bonding.

"They are talking about getting it (the public works financing bill) in the House almost immediately," Langseth said. "We could do it a week or so later."

Dorman said the biggest problem with quick action will be legislative leaders.


If House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, and Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar, "get enough pressure to give us a target" that can be spent on bonding, it can be done fast, Dorman said.

Dorman said his fear is they will "sit and look at each other" until near the May constitutional adjournment date.

Don Davis of the Forum Communications Capitol bureau contributed to this report.

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