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Bonding funds could grow

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ST. PAUL - Minnesota senators passed the largest of three public works bills Wednesday, but there is a desire for more.

Moments after senators voted 56-9 to fund $306 million in public works projects, the committee chairman in charge of picking projects to fund said he expects to spend even more.

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The House Tuesday night approved $255 million in public works projects, while Gov. Tim Pawlenty asked for $71 million.

The Senate bill would spend $135 million from a $1 billion state budget surplus. Another $170 million would be funded by the state selling bonds.

Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, said he thinks some of the $629 million senators want to put into the state budget reserve fund will end up in his public works bill.

Legislators normally pass major bonding bills in even-numbered years - each of the last two were about $1 billion - and smaller ones in odd-numbered years when their main job is adopting a two-year budget.

Normally, odd-numbered year bonding bills are reserved for what are considered emergency or urgent needs.

"There are some very timely things in there," Langseth said.

"We did some of the very basic things," Langseth said of projects ranging from college repairs to spending $37 million to build a Duluth entertainment center addition.

As with most bonding bills, colleges and universities get some of the biggest spending.

The University of Minnesota would get $36.4 million and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system would receive $33.8 million, in a large part for maintenance and repair on campuses statewide.

Pawlenty spokesman Brian McClung said the governor might veto items he does not want to fund.

"The governor feels the bonding bill credit card could use a little breather," McClung said. "So the governor's position is that bonding items should be focused on those that are emergency or agreed-to by all parties."

The bill was not big enough for some.

Sen. Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope, complained that senators could not find $29 million to begin preserving the state Capitol building.

"We have this building put together literally with duct tape," Rest said. "While I like people visiting this building, it is no longer safe."

"Our Capitol building is 100 years old," she added. "It is literally falling down."

She said there is no fire sprinkler system in the Capitol: "God help us if we had a major fire."

Langseth said it did not make sense to put money for the Capitol project in the bill since the House and governor don't support the funding. However, he said he would support the spending if it comes up before lawmakers adjourn for the year in less than two months.

One of Rest's complaints was air in the building. "It is stale, and it is not just stale because of political speeches made by all of us."

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Among items in the Senate bill:

-- $5 million to loan Red Lake schools renovation money ($30 million in House).

-- $700,000 for Green Leaf State Park (no specific amount in House bill).

-- $600,000 for digital Red River basin mapping (same as House).

-- $200,000 for Stillwater flood control projects (same as House).

-- $10 million for Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program ($8 million in House).

-- $2 million for Browns Valley flood control (House includes $2.1 million for Browns Valley and Roseau).

-- $500,000 to develop Red Wing port (also in the House).

-- $6 million for Oak Park Heights prison improvements (same as House).

-- $37 million for Duluth Entertainment Convention Center (House and Pawlenty provide $39.7 million)

-- $30 million for Itasca County infrastructure for new steel mill (House provides $20 million).

-- $2 million to buy high school site near Bemidji State University (same as House).

-- $1.8 million to buy land near Fond du Lac college (same as House).

-- $3 million for Lake Superior harbor improvements (amount not specified in House).

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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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