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. 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.”

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Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by John Olson on 02/25/2008 - 07:33 pm.

    Today’s override vote was significant in many respects:

    – This is only the 14th time the Legislature has overridden a veto since 1939, against 400+ vetoes in the same time frame. (Jesse had six bills overridden). [The link to this info is: ]

    – It is not everyday that the DFL majority and Minnesota Chamber of Commerce can agree on what day of the week it is–let alone a transportation package including tax increases.

    – The Governor notches a first loss. This is a big one too. But he can tell Grover with a straight face that it wasn’t really his fault. And he can do this while he is riding somewhere on McCain’s bus.

    – Not too many Republican legislators have openly and publicly defied the Governor or the party up to this point. It was no small act of courage for these six to vote the way they did, knowing that they will probably be outcasts the remainder of the session.

    – It will be interesting to see what (if any) effect today’s actions have on the debate over the confirmation of Lt. Gov. Molnau in the Senate.

  2. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 02/26/2008 - 11:55 am.

    We need to recognize that a lot of community groups and public interest factions were lobbying for this important legislation, including the construction trades, Transit for Livable Communities, the Alliance for Metropolitan Stability, ISAIAH (a non-partisan, ecumenical organization of almost 100 churches in the metropolitan area that promotes a social, economic and racial justice agenda), labor unions and others. In conjunction with foreward thinking legislators and business leaders, this state was finally put back on the path toward improved infrastructure, better and safer roads and bridges, and increased transit.

    We Minnesotans are willing to pay for necessary and quality governmental services. Thank you to our leaders for finally allowing us to do so in transportation.

  3. Submitted by John N. Finn on 02/25/2008 - 07:14 pm.

    Mixed feelings about this. MnDot would like to replace a bridge two blocks from my home with a four-laner but doesn’t have the money to. Locating a new one, along with its elaborate highway interchange at the foot would obliterate my neighborhood. But if we can continue to enable increased car dependency, it’s all good, I suppose.

  4. Submitted by Jeff Urbanek on 02/26/2008 - 09:39 am.

    Now we can move on to funding education.

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