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Paynesville Press - February 23, 2005

Legislature working on bonding bill

By Melissa Andrie

The Minnesota State Legislature is making progress this session toward passing a bonding bill for capital improvements throughout the state.

Governor Tim Pawlenty released a $744 million proposal in early January, and the Senate passed a $976 million bill at the end of January. House legislators have now passed a $781 million bill through committee. Their bill was scheduled to be brought to the floor for a vote this week.

Bonds are funds borrowed by the state that are used for major construction projects, and they typically create thousands of well-paying jobs throughout Minnesota, according to Sen. Dean Johnson (DFL-Willmar). Though the legislature normally passes a bonding bill every other year, last year it did not, making such a bill a priority for this session.

The Glacial Lakes State Trail, which runs a few miles north of Paynesville along an abandoned railroad track, is included in the Senate bill for $900,000 in funding to improve the section from Paynesville to New London.

The House proposal also contains $500,000 in funding to improve this section of the trail.

Funding to connect the Lake Koronis Recreational Trail to the Glacial Lakes State Trail has also been included in both the Senate bill and the House proposal. This project was included for $365,000 in the Senate and $150,000 in the House.

It is encouraging to have funding for these two trails included by bothhouses of the legislature, said Sen. Michelle Fischbach (R-Paynesville), even though lower amounts are in the House proposal.

Rep. Larry Hosch (DFL-St. Joseph) and Mayor Jeff Thompson testified earlier this month in front of the House Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources Finance Committee in support of funding for the Lake Koronis Recreational Trail.

Having funding for the trail included in the bonding proposal shows recognition of the community support for the trail, said Hosch. Once completed, this trail will be more than 25 miles long, with opportunities for use year-round.

Funding for the Lake Koronis Recreational Trail had been included in the 2002 bonding bill, but it was vetoed by then Gov. Jesse Ventura. Last year, both the House and the Senate included the trail in proposed bonding bills, but the Senate bill never passed, and no final bill was completed.

This year, the Senate bill includes $362 million for higher education, with the University of Minnesota receiving $118 million and $243 million going to the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system (MNSCU).

A large difference is seen in the House proposal, which has $89 million for the University of Minnesota and $155 million for MNSCU, for a sum of $244 million. The governor recommends $100 million for both the U of M and $100 million for MNSCU, totaling $200 million.

Transportation funding also varies by a wide margin, with $107 million in the Senate bill, $96 million in Governor Pawlenty's recommendation, and $82.5 million in the House proposal. The major factor in this difference is funding for the suggested North Star commuter rail line from Minneapolis to St. Cloud, which the Senate and governor have included $37.5 million and the House proposal only $10 million.

Agricultural funding in both the House and the Senate bills includes money for the biological control containment facility at the University of Minnesota campus in St. Paul, where research is done that can be used to "help combat soybean rust and other blights," according to Rep. Dean Urdahl (R-Grove City).

Rep. Bud Heidgerken (R-Freeport), who has opposed bonding bills in the past and fears that passing them is using a credit card to leave fiscal difficulties for future generations, hopes that funding for projects he considers unnecessary can be removed, like for the Minnesota Zoo and Guthrie Theater. If the House passes their proposed bonding bill, members of the House and Senate will meet in a conference committee to negotiate a joint bill, likely to be a compromise between the larger Senate bill and the smaller House proposal.

During this process, local representatives plan to advocate for local projects, so they receive as much funding as possible, they said.

After the committee has worked out differences between the two bills and approves a final bill, it will be sent back to be voted on in both the House and the Senate. If this bill passes through both houses, which could happen as early as the beginning of March, according to Urdahl, it will be sent to the governor to sign, after which it becomes law.

(Editor's Note: Andrie is a 2004 graduate of Paynesville Area High School and a freshman at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. She is covering the 2005 legislative session for the Paynesville Press.)

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