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House overrides governor’s veto of transportation bill: What changed?

The Minnesota House voted Monday afternoon to override Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s veto of the omnibus transportation bill 91-41, one vote greater than the two-thirds majority required by law.

The Minnesota House voted Monday afternoon to override Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s veto of the omnibus transportation bill 91-41, one vote greater than the two-thirds majority required by law. Last Thursday, the House passed the bill 89-44, only to have Pawlenty veto it a day later, citing his opposition to the tax increases involved in the $6.55 billion legislation.

The Senate, which has a veto-proof majority of DFL members and which also passed the original bill Thursday, is widely expected to concur with its override later today.

It will be the first time a bill will be enacted over a Pawlenty veto in the governor’s five-plus years in office.

Since the Legislature failed to override two previous Pawlenty vetoes of Omnibus Transportation bills passed in 2005 and 2007, a number of things have happened that may have strengthened momentum for today’s result.

The I-35W bridge collapsed last August, calling national attention to deficiencies in the state’s transportation infrastructure. This year, a special election changed a Senate seat in Northfield from Republican to DFL, providing the Democrats with a veto-proof majority in that body which enabled them to focus their attention and areas of compromise on the House bill.

Earlier this month, the nonpartisan Office of the Legislative Auditor released an evaluation report on the state’s roads and bridges that dramatized the need for more dedicated funding for transportation. And during the house floor debate last Thursday, a compromise reached between DFL leaders and the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, reducing the proposed metro sales tax in the bill from one-half to one-quarter cent, resulting in the Chamber throwing its support to the legislation.
 
All six Republicans who originally broke with their party on the original vote last week upheld their positions Monday. They are: Jim Abeler of Anoka, Ron Erhardt of Edina and the vice chair of the House Transportation Finance Committee, Rod Hamilton of  Mountain Lake, Bud Heidgerken of Freeport, Neil Peterson of Bloomington and Kathy Tingelstad of Andover. In addition, two DFLers who opposed the original bill, John Lesch, St. Paul, and Mary Ellen Otremba, Long Prairie, switched their positions and provided the margin to override the governor. Rep. Laura Brod, R-New Prague, was absent from today’s vote.

“I think this is truly a historic day. We have waited 20 years for this day,” said Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, chair of the Transportation and Transit Policy subcommittee, referring to the last time the gas tax was increased in 1988.

Noting that the bill was a product of myriad compromises between rural and urban legislators, and between proponents favoring more money for transit or more for roads and bridges, Hornstein added: “It is a good, solid bill. There are few things we can do as public servants that are as important to our constituents as what we did today.”