Bonding bill likely to pass committee with Bell funding

Conference committee to vote on funding Wednesday.

A revised capital investment bill with $24 million in funding for a new Bell Museum of Natural History on the University of Minnesota St. Paul campus is likely to pass a conference committee on Wednesday. Once it passes the committee, convened to pass a version of the spending bill with similar language for both the House and Senate, the nearly $280 million bill will go back to the branches of the Legislature and then to Gov. Tim Pawlenty , who has already threatened a veto. The House members on the committee pitched Bell Museum funding in their first proposal during the committee process, despite the funding not being in their original bill. Prior to passing the Senate in April, the Bell Museum provision, and funding for the Como Zoo in St. Paul, became subjects of debate, and Rep. Alice Hausman , DFL-St. Paul, said she didnâÄôt want museum funding debated in the House, because it possibly would have failed there. âÄúTheyâÄôve sort of made zoos and museums the bad guys,âÄù Hausman said. âÄúKnowing the House, I thought this is a very bad sign. It made more sense to protect the project by not having it in the House bill.âÄù Sen. Keith Langseth , DFL-Glyndon, said there is support across the whole 10-person conference committee for Bell funding. âÄúIt is a top priority for the U, and we want to get that done this year,âÄù he said. Bell museum director Susan Weller said she is pleased the conference committee agreed on funding the project. Weller said the current Bell Museum on the Minneapolis campus, with leaks and cracking windows, is âÄúnot aging gracefully.âÄù At the same time, Weller said donors, whose support makes up a third of the cost of the Bell project, are concerned by the lack of movement on the project at the Capitol. Some donations for the project are contingent on the Legislature passing funding for the project this session. âÄúTheir money has been held hostage by the state,âÄù she said. âÄúWe already have invested millions of dollars that would make this project shovel-ready.âÄù The University has launched an effort to raise support for the project, Bell Museum communications director Marty Moen said. Recently, more than 1,500 supporters sent emails to Pawlenty about the project, he added. In letters to lawmakers on the conference committee, Pawlenty has outlined his priorities for the bonding bill this session: âÄ¢ smaller than $200 million âÄ¢ focused on repairing facilities or on projects that require state support to get federal stimulus money âÄ¢ funding for public infrastructure projects that would create jobs âÄúThe bonding bill should reflect the priority of repairing and maintaining facilitates âĦ rather than building new structures,âÄù Pawlenty wrote in an April 29 letter. âÄúGiven the stateâÄôs extremely challenging financial situation âĦ all the remaining projects should be deferred for further consideration next year.âÄù Pawlenty, who vetoed funding for the Bell Museum last session, said he will give University President Bob Bruininks a final opportunity to convince him otherwise if he decides to veto the project this year, Hausman said. Should it be vetoed, however, Hausman said itâÄôs unlikely the House would override the veto, where it would require at least 81 votes. -Devin Henry is a senior staff reporter