Blazing Star funds may be in danger of veto

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 20, 2002

ST. PAUL &045; The House and Senate on Sunday morning passed a plump bonding bill on to Gov. Jesse Ventura and his waiting pig stamp and veto pen.

The bonding bill is essentially a list of projects the state decides are worth borrowing money for. It contains hundreds of individual projects and new buildings for schools, parks and the arts across the state.

The Blazing Star Trail, a bike and walking path that would connect Albert Lea and Austin, would receive $600,000 under the bill, and the Shooting Star Trail in Mower County would get $450,000 &045; if the projects can survive Ventura’s veto pen.

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But Rep. Dan Dorman, R-Albert Lea, isn’t sure what will happen to the trail funding now that Ventura has the bill, especially to the funding for the Blazing Star Trail.

&uot;It’s kind of hard to tell. We’re going to have to see,&uot; he said. &uot;I would say it’s going to be on his hit list because it wasn’t part of his original recommendation.&uot; The governor probably won’t see the issue as one with statewide significance, he added.

Schwab said she’s hoping Ventura will spare the bike trail funding.

&uot;We worked hard to promote our needs this session and I am so pleased to see the legislature recognize the benefits of our projects,&uot; said Sen. Grace Shwab, R-Albert Lea.

&uot;I urge Governor Ventura to look at the regional and statewide value of these initiatives and to think carefully before jeopardizing them.&uot;

The House passed the bill 102-31; the Senate followed suit 51-13.

Ventura has threatened to veto many of the projects &045; some $230 million worth were on a &uot;hit-list&uot; his aides circulated &045; in an attempt to persuade members of the House to provide at least $50 million for the Northstar commuter rail line.

As he has in the past, Ventura said he planned to use the pink pig stamp to highlight vetoed projects he considers &uot;pork.&uot; Because lawmakers did not give themselves enough time to override a veto, any Ventura vetoes stand.

The overall bill would float $879 million in state bonds to pay for $979 million in projects, making it the second most expensive in history.

&uot;While I would have liked to see the total come in a little lower, ultimately, the bill will do a lot of good for our district and I was happy to vote for it,&uot; Schwab said. &uot;For any questionable project it includes, there are ten sound investments in education, transportation and the environment. Add to that several exciting opportunities to improve our local quality of life, and you end up with a pretty good bill.&uot;

Other legislators rebuffed the governor’s threats to carve up the bill. &uot;If we succumb, we greatly reduce the integrity of this process,&uot; argued Rep. Mark Olson, R-Big Lake.

&uot;It’s the governor’s at-bat now, and all you can do is play defense,&uot; said Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis.

&uot;The Legislature should know after three years that I don’t bluff,&uot; Ventura responded. The deal he offered top lawmakers, Ventura said, was that he would allow them a chance to override his vetoes by calling a special session if necessary, if they included the train.

Before the vote and with just hours left in the session, supporters of the rail line unsuccessfully tried to send the bill back for more work so the project could be included. The effort failed with 48 people voting to send it back and 84 voting not to.

&uot;The voice of the people is the voice we ought to be ruled by,&uot; argued Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, noting popular support for the train in opinion polls. Half the project’s $294 million cost, which would run 82 miles from Minneapolis to the St. Cloud area, would be paid for with federal funds.

Others countered that such a move would have killed the bill for good. Olson, the only lawmaker who opposes the train whose district abuts the line, said $20 million the bill includes for a bus line to the northern suburbs would be more cost effective and should placate train supporters.

Much of the debate in the Senate, where support for the train is strong, focused on the refusal of House negotiators to back it.

&uot;It was adamantly opposed by the House,&uot; said Sen. Don Samuelson, the president of the Senate and a DFLer from Brainerd. &uot;I think in the long run, we’re all going to be sorry for it, and quite frankly they will be the most sorry for it.&uot;

Of the $879 million in bonds the bill would float, a third would go to repairs and new buildings at state colleges. More than $101 million would go to natural resources programs including flood mitigation efforts, state parks and trains and repairs to the Como Park conservatory.

There also would be $65 million for road and bridge repairs, $13 million to upgrade emergency communication systems, $60 million for a new laboratory for the departments of agriculture and health and $24 million for the Guthrie Theater.

Speculation about what Ventura might veto caused nervousness around the Capitol. He’s threatened various levels of cuts. In the most extreme case, Ventura said this week, he will veto everything in the bill except the laboratory.

&uot;I think a lot of people have lost a lot of money betting on what Governor Jesse Ventura is going to do,&uot; Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak said.

Minneapolis has a number of projects, including money for the Guthrie Theater and a new planetarium, in the bill. Some members said the Twin Cities got too much.

&uot;If you’re from rural Minnesota, you hardly get a wink,&uot; said Rep. Bob Ness, R-Dassel, decrying the lack of &uot;pork chops&uot; for rural areas.

Some fiscal conservatives said they welcome any Ventura vetoes, considering the state’s budget troubles.

&uot;This is a huge shovel, this is a turbo-powered shovel, of digging the hole deeper,&uot; shouted Rep. Eric Lipman, R-Lake Elmo.


Patrick Howe can be reached at phowe(at)