The Minnesota Legislature passed a $583 million bonding bill with moments to spare. Over half of the funding will be spent on schools, from childrens' programs to college campuses around the state. The bill also funds a new Bureau of Criminal Apprehension lab, a new arts building for the University of Minnesota, and $73 million for Department of Natural Resources projects. It survived protests by some House Republicans, brought on by Governor Ventura's last-minute insertion of transit money into the bill.
LEGISLATORS OSTENSIBLY MET THIS SESSION in order to pass a bonding bill, and leaders of the bonding effort say they're pleased with the results. Republican Representative Jim Knoblach of St. Cloud, who co-chaired the bonding conference committee, said this year's bill benefited from a new law saying bonding bills can only fund projects of statewide or regional significance. Up against the Wednesday deadline, Knoblach had about 30 seconds to describe the bill when it came up for debate at 6:45 a.m.
"A few of the highlights: the art building is in the bill, genomics
building is in the bill, Minneapolis community and technical college is in the
bill, Winona science, some maximum effort loans, the Como Zoo, the rural
finance authority for farmers, the BCA building is fully funded in the bill,
the World War II memorial is in the bill..."
The time grew even tighter when Republican Representative Phil Krinkie of Shoreview rose to make his displeasure known over a last-minute funding request from Governor Ventura. Ventura asked the committee to insert $44 million for a dedicated busway between Minneapolis and St. Paul, which Republicans feared could become the next light-rail line.
Krinkie, a foe of light-rail transit, also accused Ventura of abusing the conference committee process he has so often criticized. "It's the governor of this state that came to the conference
committee at the eleventh hour and twisted arms to insert legislation in this
bill," Krinkie said.
But in the end the bill passed overwhelmingly. The bill also breezed through the Senate with minutes to spare, although DFL Senator Richard Cohen of St. Paul lamented that a library for Metropolitan State University did not make it into the final bill.
"It's the only university in the state without a library, and obviously
that puts students - as all of us can well imagine - at a significant
disadvantage," Cohen said.
Cohen says with the state budget showing record surpluses, the lid on the bonding bill should have been raised. Other projects dined funding include the Shubert Theater in Minneapolis, and Public Television stations, which sought funds to convert to digital technology.
In addition to funding a new arts facility at the University of Minnesota and the BCA crime lab, the bill contains $3 million to help the Guthrie Theater build a new theater complex, much less than its $25 million request, but more than House members initially recommended.
The bill next goes to Ventura for his signature or veto. His surprise line-item vetoes in last year's bonding bill remain a sore point with many legislators.