Light rail a poor target for a veto

Though cuts to bonding were needed, the light rail must be funded.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty, on Monday, did not veto the state Legislature’s $925 million bonding bill outright. Instead, using his line-item veto authority, Pawlenty cut $208 million worth of transit lines, buildings and other construction projects from the public works bill that was passed by the Legislature last week.

The city of St. Paul received 60 percent of the cuts – losing $127 million for such projects as the Central Corridor light-rail line, a new Bell Museum of Natural History at the University’s St. Paul campus and a new gorilla exhibit at the Como Zoo.

Pawlenty had warned the Legislature that he would not support a bill borrowing more than $825 million, a number he claimed was the maximum allowed under the state’s long-standing debt limit. Though lawmakers, primarily from the DFL majority in both houses, ignored Pawlenty’s warning, the governor’s cuts went far below his $825 million limit – to $717 million.

Considering the nearly $1 billion state budget shortfall, some of Pawlenty’s cuts were fair. Though the $24 million Bell Museum project was cut, $233 million did go to the University to build four biomedical research laboratories over the next eight years. And even after cuts to higher education in the bill, state colleges and universities will split $335 million – about half of the bonding funds.

What is not understandable is Pawlenty’s cut to the Central Corridor light-rail line. Failing to fund the state’s $70 million share of the proposed light-rail line this year would mean losing $450 million in federal funding. And stalling the project will add at least an additional $40 million in costs if light-rail funding is not reconsidered again until next year. Pawlenty also cut funding to develop a St. Paul-to-Chicago high-speed rail line. But the governor did not veto $74.5 million allocated for hockey arenas in Duluth, Bemidji, Crookston and St. Cloud. To fund hockey facilities and not transit is misguided.

With a veto-override by the Legislature unlikely, Pawlenty still has the time to remedy this failure to support the future of Minnesota transit. We hope he will choose to do so.