By State Rep. Dean Urdahl
I am pleased Gov. Tim Pawlenty reduced the capital investment bonding bill to a more affordable level, but I think he could have gone even further.
The bill – which borrows money for construction projects throughout the state – passed the Legislature last week with a cost of about $1 billion. Pawlenty eliminated $319 million in projects to get down to a more affordable $680 million. The single-largest line-item veto is $43.5 million from transit funding.
The focus of the bill was on projects that create jobs, have state/regional significance, and/or preserve state assets. Veterans, military and public safety projects also received priority, including flood mitigation in the Red River Valley. These are areas that we can't afford to neglect and have an obligation to uphold.
I do not like that some proposals pertaining to civic centers were eliminated because there were a number of worthy projects with state/regional significance. Those should have outranked one-dimensional projects like a volleyball facility in Rochester, the Ordway in St. Paul, and Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis.
It was a rather bumpy ride for this bill. Pawlenty said he would approve a bill in the $700 million neighborhood, but the Legislature twice this session passed bills costing $1 billion. The first time the bill passed the Legislature, some parliamentary gymnastics were used to withhold it from the governor; he had promised to veto it. The bill then went into a conference committee for further review, but it remained at $1 billion as it passed the Legislature a second time. The governor used line-item vetoes to trim the total instead of denying or approving the bill in one piece.
The bill could have been reduced even further, but we successfully negotiated our way to a more affordable, responsible bill and still provide funding for a number of essential projects.
These are tough economic times we face, including a $1 billion state budget deficit which has yet to be resolved. The majority has announced it will come forward with three rounds of cuts. The first round of cuts was issued at $312 million. There is a proposed $105 million reduction in tax credits and aid, and a $52 million cut to Higher Education and Workforce Development.
The first phase did not impact education or health and human services. Those areas combine to consume approximately 70 percent of our budget, so the next two rounds will be challenging.
Dean Urdahl represents District 18B in the Minnesota House of Representatives. The district includes most of Meeker County and a portion of Wright County. This is Urdahl’s fourth term in the Legislature after being elected in 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2008.