Legislature passes state bonding bill

Pawlenty said in a statement that the bill is “fiscally irresponsible” and that it has “misguided intentions.”

by Jake Grovum

The Legislature passed the state capital investment bill Wednesday with nearly $925 million in funding for various projects around Minnesota.

The bill overwhelmingly passed 90-42 in the House and 57-10 in the Senate.

The University will receive $131.1 million from the bill, less than the original House and Senate bills, but $2 million more than Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s recommendation.

The total amount of the bill exceeded what Pawlenty has said is acceptable by $100 million. Its passage could set up another showdown between the Legislature and the governor.

In a statement, Pawlenty called the bill “fiscally irresponsible” and said it has “misguided priorities.”

The bill provides no funding for Folwell Hall renovations, and University officials have said the Legislature largely followed University funding priorities in the bill.

Pawlenty’s bonding recommendation includes $26 million for Folwell renovations.

The bill provides $35 million for Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement, the University deferred maintenance program.

The University originally requested $100 million for HEAPR, which the University’s Chief Financial Officer Richard Pfutzenreuter called the institution’s top priority.

The Senate, House and Pawlenty all originally recommended setting aside $40 million for HEAPR.

“We’re going to fix fewer things,” Pfutzenreuter said. “We’re disappointed, and frankly I don’t understand why they had to clip us another $5 million on that.”

The money taken out of HEAPR didn’t go toward any other University project, he said.

A new Bell Museum on the St. Paul campus also received $24 million in the bill. Pawlenty recommended not funding the project in his capital investment recommendation.

The House also voted to fund a new Science Teaching and Student Services building near the Washington Avenue Bridge.

The University’s biomedical research program received support from the House. The University is required to cover 25 percent of the $292 million project under the bill.

The House had originally charged the University with paying for one-third of the project, and the Senate mandated the school pay 20 percent of the cost.

Typically, the University covers one-third of state-funded projects, Pfutzenreuter said, but because the operating costs are high for the biomedical facilities, that changed.

Pfutzenreuter called the result of the biomedical research program a “positive outcome.”

Despite Pawlenty’s opposition to the bill, Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, said it’ll have a positive economic effect on the state.

“This bill will put people to work immediately, which is a good thing,” she said, adding that the University’s biomedical research program alone will create 4,800 new jobs.

The House discussed the bill for hours Wednesday, but discussion in the Senate was rather short, with Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina, as one of the few senators voicing dissent of the bill.

“It’s a game of chicken with the governor,” he said. “Instead of taking stands and playing this game, it strikes me that we should be talking and deliberating with (Pawlenty).”

Ultimately, the Senate passed the bill, and Sen. Paul Koering, R-Fort Ripley, said while it’s not perfect, he voted for its passage.

“Do I agree with everything in this bill? Of course not,” he said. “But sometimes, you have to compromise.”

Jake Grovum is a senior staff reporter.