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Temporary truce: DFL leaders pull back bonding bill and avoid Pawlenty veto

Just as Gov.

Last year, “unallotment” became the political buzzword in Minnesota politics.

This year, “pre-empt” appears destined to be the new word in St. Paul.

On Monday evening, you’ll recall, Gov. Tim Pawlenty issued a pre-emptive veto of the DFL-inspired $1 billion bonding bill that sailed through the House and Senate chambers shortly after Pawlenty’s long-distance letter hit the desks of state legislators.

Today, just as Pawlenty was about to turn his threatened veto into the real deal, DFL legislative leaders pre-empted that move by withdrawing the bonding bill.

House speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher said the move was arranged to give everyone a chance “to take a deep breath.”

House speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher
House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher

And, in fact, there appears to be a chance that DFLers and the governor will sit down and try to reach agreement on a bonding bill.

In a letter to the governor the governor received just before a news conference he’d called to announce his veto, the House and Senate leaders of the bonding bill waved a scraggly olive branch.

“We are willing to come to the table and further discuss this bill,” wrote Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, and Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon. “It is our understanding the Senate would be willing to reconsider HF2700 [the bonding bill] this Thursday if you are willing to provide a specific list of projects and amounts that you want removed in addition to specific list of your spending priorities that need to be added to the bill. We need this list by Thursday, Feb. 25th.”

‘They overspend’
The governor, who just returned from a five-day trip to Washington, D.C., didn’t exactly embrace the DFLers decision to pull back.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty
MinnPost/Terry Gydesen
Gov. Tim Pawlenty

“They do what they always do,” said Pawlenty of the DFLers. “They can’t help themselves. They overspend.”

Like Republican legislators, the governor accused the DFL of slipping the bonding bill through a conference committee “in the dark of night.” He also said he — and his staff — had been available throughout the weekend, when the final bill was being put together and he was in D.C. doing mostly political work on his own behalf.

“My being out of town had nothing to do with this,” said Pawlenty of the train wreck the session already has become.

Smaller bill likely
Still, in the end, Pawlenty did take a finger hold of the DFLers’ olive twig, saying he’d be happy to sit down and deal with the DFLers to get a bonding bill passed quickly.

He made it clear the bill will have to be much smaller than the $1 billion bill that has been passed and withdrawn. He also made it clear that a couple of his pet projects, including a $90 million expansion of the Moose Lake holding facility for sexual predators, will have to be included.

So where could all of this end up? Probably with a bonding bill in the neighborhood of $750 million, with a lot of projects that Pawlenty sees as “local” in nature going down the bonding drain.

“A bonding bill is not one of the more difficult things to get done,” said Pawlenty. “It’s relatively easy to put together if people sit down and are serious about getting things done.”

DFLers will surely point out that it’s easier to sit down with a governor who is actually in Minnesota.

And Pawlenty will surely respond that the DFLers are “irresponsible.”

But maybe, just maybe, there’s a pre-emptive truce about to break out for at least a few days.

Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.