Gov. Ventura and other supporters of the Northstar Commuter Rail Line say they have renewed hope that funding for the project will be included in the state's still-evolving bonding bill. Lawmakers worked feverishly to pass the bonding bill and still have enough time to override a veto. But talks broke down as negotiators disagreed over funding for anti-terrorism equipment. The compromise didn't include Northstar funding, but Ventura may use his line-item veto authority to influence legislators to reconsider their agreement.
Gov. Ventura says he'll veto any bonding project that doesn't have statewide or regional significance. He wouldn't say which projects he'd target saying he wanted to keep his options open. He's seeking at least $50 million from the Legislature to jumpstart the project. Ventura says the state will eventually have to build a railway project to deal with the Twin Cities' surging population.
He thinks construction for the rail line that runs from St. Cloud to the Twin Cities should begin soon. (Listen to audio).
"I'm sticking as tough as I can on Northstar commuter rail because ultimately I'll be judged 20 years from now. And ultimately if we don't it now, we will have to do it then and it will cost us a heck of a lot more money to do it then than it would be today," Ventura said.
Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, says Ventura was more specific about which projects he'd veto when the governor called the bonding conferees into his office on Wednesday.
Langseth says Ventura was critical of local arts projects. The current bonding bill has $31 million for arts projects. The new Guthrie Theater is the largest project at $24 million. Langseth says Ventura wanted to know if those items were more important than his pet project.
"He mentioned the Northstar and he felt that sort of thing was the state's responsibility and the arts wasn't. I think the arts thing always sticks in his craw, part of it because we propose spending a lot of money in there," Langseth said.
Langseth, who co-chairs the bonding conference committee, says talks didn't break down over Northstar funding but over a disagreement where radio equipment funding should be distributed. Langseth says Senate DFLers do support the commuter raile project.
Other Northstar supporters rallied at the Capitol to encourage House Republicans to vote on the bill. Anoka County Board Chairman Paul McCarron stood with others who represent the northwest metro area and said House Republicans are holding up the bill.
"The people want the Northstar Corridor. They want it in great numbers. There is a small number of people in your House of Representatives that's holding this very important project up," McCarron said.
"I think the arts thing always sticks in his craw, part of it because we propose spending a lot of money in there."
- Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon
Many House Republicans say the project is not cost effective. Most of the critics also object to the light-rail line under construction from Minneapolis to Bloomington and say they don't want to spend money on another big-ticket rail item.
House Majority Leader Tim Pawlenty says a bonding bill will not pass the floor if it includes one cent of Northstar funding. He says House Republicans will consider it bad faith if Northstar is included in the bill.
"If the Senate conferees and the governor want to reopen that bill, it's going to set off another chain of events and that could put the whole bill at risk," he said.
Rep. Jim Knoblach, R-St. Cloud, a co-chair of the bonding conference committe, says Ventura has increased his influence over the bonding bill now that the Legislature can no longer override his vetoes. Knoblach supports Northstar, but says he can't get other House conferees to vote for it. He says he expects the Ventura administration to continue lobbying House members to reconsider their vote. He wouldn't say if Northstar funding was dead for the year.
"At this point and this late in the session with us pretty much having finalized the bill, it will be difficult seeing Northstar coming back but anything can happen at the very end," he said.
As lawmakers and the Ventura administration continue their discussion on Northstar and the bonding bill, arts groups are nervous about their projects. Officials with the Guthrie Theater are encouraging their patrons to call the governor's office to support the new theater.
Both bonding co-chairs say they hope the full House and Senate will have a final vote on the bill by Saturday night. The constitutional deadline for adjournment is Monday.More from MPR