Capitol communications snafu over bonding bill prompts pointed question: Who’s misreading whom?

Who’s misreading whom?

In the never-ending train wreck at the state Capitol, it should come as no surprise that signals between the office of Gov. Tim Pawlenty and the DFL-controlled Legislature continue to be missed, presumably at the expense of Minnesotans.

This time, the communications snafu was over the bonding bill, which was stripped Monday of $319 million by Pawlenty’s line-item vetoes.

Start with the DFLers, who thought, or at least hoped, they were getting a quasi-positive message from the governor after they took a deep breath and then revised the original bonding bill they had passed.

(The governor, you’ll recall, wrote a letter (PDF) on Feb. 9 to DFL bonding bill leaders saying that he would veto the entire bill, if it wasn’t cut. His office says that was one of many warnings. But the big warning — a rare, pre-emptive veto — was sent to legislative leaders on Feb. 22, the day that the Legislature was set to pass a $1 billion bill. The governor sent leaders that veto vow while he was politicking in Washington, D.C. The Legislature passed the bill anyway.)

Rather than face that fate, DFLers cut some of their priorities and replaced them with some things the governor said he had to have. The hope of DFLers was that by giving Pawlenty some of what he wanted — money for the expansion of the Moose Lake treatment facility for sexual predators, a few million for purchasing land for a park on Lake Vermillion — that he would be temperate in his use of line-item vetoes. They assumed that the governor would cut no more than $250 million from their $1 billion bill.

Did DFLers misread Pawlenty?
But the DFL assumptions, it turns out, were not based on anything but hope.

“All we could get from him,” said Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, “is that we had given him a bill he could work with. He had always mentioned $750 million. The $680 million is a shock.”

Rep. Alice Hausman
Rep. Alice Hausman

So that’s the first misreading.

But Hausman and Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker, believe the governor is doing some misreading of his own. The governor seems to believe that after his hardball cutting, there will be a second bonding bill — a mini-bill — passed in this session.

“I think he absolutely guaranteed [Republican legislators] that there would be a second bill,” she said. “But that just can’t pass.”

Indeed, the governor’s spokesman, Brian McClung, said Monday that DFLers should sit down with their Republican brothers and sisters and work out a sequel to the bonding bill that now is littered with line-item vetoes.

“They should meet with the Republican leaders and engage them, learn a little about their concerns, and then if they want to proceed from there after they have bipartisan support, certainly we’re open to talking to them,” he said.

McClung was doing the talking Monday because the governor was busy politicking in Florida. Pawlenty may be suffering a little fatigue because he’s been busily jumping on and off planes. He was in Florida on Saturday politicking, came back Sunday to do his vetoing and then jumped on a plane again and returned to Florida for more campaigning.

Before returning to Florida, however, he did leave a letter (PDF) criticizing legislators and outlining his cuts.

Why couldn’t a mini-bonding bill pass?

Is governor’s office misreading DFLers?
“It can’t get the votes,” said Hausman. She explained that if you’re a DFL rep whose favorite project was vetoed by the governor, you’re not likely to vote for a bonding bill filled with items that appeal to the governor and Republican legislators. 

Howes believes Hausman is correct in that assessment.

Rep. Larry Howes
Rep. Larry Howes

“You can only go back and forth so many times,” Howes said. “I just don’t think it [a second bonding bill] is feasible.”

A moment here to sing the praises of Howes. In a political environment in which mind-numbing partisan rhetoric rules, Howes, the minority leader on the bonding committee, is refreshingly independent.

Howes didn’t necessarily buy into the entire $1 billion bonding package, yet ended up being empathetic to the DFL convictions that with low-interest rates and contractors making low bids, it was a reasonable time to invest more than usual.

He paid a price for daring to support the big bonding bill. He said he has been hanged in effigy back in his home district.

Howes played a behind-the-scenes role in trying to help shape the bonding bill, meeting last Friday with Tom Hanson, Pawlenty’s finance commissioner.

Three bonding plans
He carried three plans to Hanson.

Plan 1: At the request of the House Republican caucus, Howes carried a $200 million bonding bill to Hanson. The bill covered flood mitigation projects and the Moose Lake expansion and little else.

The Republicans seemed to believe that the $200 million would be a starting point. They wanted that passed and then thought they could sit down with DFLers on a second bonding bill.

Hanson, though, didn’t think Pawlenty would like this deal, given the fact that he’d originally proposed a $680 million bill.

Plan 2: A $775 million bill that Howes put together himself, believing, like many DFLers, that the governor would ultimately accept a bill that high.

Plan 3: A bill worth roughly $680 million, which is where the governor landed. But Howes said his $680 million was dramatically different from the bill the governor shaped with his veto pen.

Examples of the differences?

“I didn’t have money for the Ordway [Center for the Performing Arts] and Orchestra Hall for starters,” said Howes of his Plan 3 proposal.

He was surprised that the governor hammered MNSCU projects but held on to bonding money for the Ordway and Orchestra Hall projects. “Maybe some rich Republicans go there,” Howes said.

Of all the winners and losers Monday, no region was hit harder than St. Cloud. The city not only lost $13 million for work on its convention center but also a $44 million science and technology project on the St. Cloud State campus.

Rep. Larry Haws, a DFLer from St. Cloud, admitted he wasn’t surprised that the governor eliminated all convention center funds across the state. But he was shocked at the $134 million in hits state colleges took.

Rep. Larry Haws
Rep. Larry Haws

“We are always hearing [from Pawlenty] that we have to be competitive globally, we need scientists, we have to be bold, that education is so important,” Haws said. “It just seems so illogical.”

Disgusted as Hausman was — especially over the MNSCU cuts — she is trying to find a positive in the negative quagmire at the Capitol.

“We do have $680 million,” she said. “There’s a lot of good stuff in there.”

Hard feelings, bleak outlook
But there are ever more hard feelings.

There appears to be no way, in the current atmosphere at the Capitol, that any work of significance can be done.

Even Howes, the rare moderate in St. Paul, is discouraged.

“I don’t see any way we get out of here with a balanced budget,” Howes said of the atmosphere stinking up state government.

There are times, he said, when he thinks legislators should just return home and let the voters decide the state’s future in November.

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

Comments (18)

  1. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 03/16/2010 - 09:35 am.

    Can it be any clearer that Timmy’s point of reference now has nothing to do with the state of Minnesota? Even the Republicans in the Minnesota legislature make it clear they have no idea where he is, what he’s doing or why he’s doing it.

    He’s now done clear and visible damage to his own party here at home: Why on earth would he cut so much out of the bonding bill for the St. Cloud area which has traditionally been a bastion of conservatism, but which has been edging the other over the past few years? No doubt this will convince more people in that area that they can’t trust the Republicans and may even break some of the formerly one-issue, pro-life voters lose.

    I suspect that Timmy’s only consideration in line-item vetoing so much out of the bonding bill, especially the completely illogical vetoes of building projects throughout the MNSCU system at a time when enrollment is skyrocketing, is the result of his consultations with Grover Norquist and his “kill the government” cronies.

    A lingering question remains, how long will the MN Republican Party march along in lockstep behind a governor who is far too interested in his national political aspirations to care if he leaves his Republican colleagues presiding over a party that’s seriously wounded and bleeding from blows he, himself, has delivered while gallivanting around the country tilting at political windmills?

  2. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 03/16/2010 - 09:49 am.

    Very good analysis.

    But let’s face it folks. The main problem is that the governor has other ambitious aspirations. Even if he were merely a lame duck governor he would be concerned enough about his place in the history of the state to try to get us out of the current mess.

    He dreams of a bigger fish to fry, assuming he can catch one.

    Nowhere is this more obvious than his handling of the ca $40 million project for the St. Cloud State science building that would train future scientists and engineers. At the same time he whines about the U of M’s nano building not being fully funded.

    Could it be that St. Cloud St. is located in a DFL legislator’s district?

    And more on the educational aspects of this:

    TeaPaw supported Folwell ($23 Mil) and planning money for nano ($4 Mil) but shorted the American Indian Learning Center and the Itasca facilities. Money was also allocated for HEAPR ($56 Mil) and lab renovations ($6.7 Mil.)

    This was a cut of about $10 Mil in toto leaving ca $90 Mil.

    He also savagely cut MNSCU a total of $134 M, remarking “I am troubled by the disparity in funding levels” in his veto letter to MAK.

    Not surprisingly, this is the same line that the Morrill Hall Gang has been using, e.g. President Bruininks position at a recent Civic Caucus: “These changes are weighting what he considers a disproportionate share of state funds toward the MnSCU system.”

    What goes around, Bob…

    How many students does the MnSCU system provide for? And perhaps their goals are better aligned with those of the citizens of the state and their legislature?

    People are going to remember this when the U of M president goes over to the legislature and tries to negotiate what he calls a new covenant.

    I don’t believe he seriously expected another bonding bill. If he does, then he is stupid. And that definitely is not the case.

  3. Submitted by Howard Salute on 03/16/2010 - 10:44 am.

    If the DFL knew that the guv was only going to accept a bonding bill around $700mil., how can they be shocked at cuts when they present a bill for 1000mil.

    “All we could get from him,” said Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, “is that we had given him a bill he could work with. He had always mentioned $750 million. The $680 million is a shock.”

    Gee Alice, you knew he could cut at least 25%. And you were “shocked” because he actually cut 32%. 7% is shocking?? Get a brain! Take some reasonable action. Why do you let the guv make the cuts??

    The stae is in a dire financial mess. Basic services to our residents are being cut.

    I’m shocked that our leaders leave even 25% on the table for the guvs line item veto pen. On that point there was no misreading.

  4. Submitted by Ginny Martin on 03/16/2010 - 11:14 am.

    The governor has also given up millions of dollars in federal funds by eliminating a number of programs.
    I hope the Republicans are beginning to revolt. This is not good for their party. I do not understand how Pawlenty thinks he’s a possible national candidate with such incredibly poor and indifferent governance. A little like Palin quitting her job so she could . . . I’m not sure what she’s doing or why.

  5. Submitted by Dave Eldred on 03/16/2010 - 11:41 am.

    So you’re saying that TPaw pulled one over on Kelleher and the DFL?

    In other news: is the sky still blue?

  6. Submitted by Mark Gisleson on 03/16/2010 - 11:54 am.

    It’s pretty easy to whack off items with your veto pen when you refuse to talk to the legislature. Pawlenty delights in withholding input until only his voice counts, and then speaking very loudly.

    Worst governor I’ve ever lived under and that most definitely includes Jesse Ventura.

  7. Submitted by Brad Robinson on 03/16/2010 - 12:35 pm.

    Here’s the deal with the Gov., and I think he would agree with me. His point of orientation is that the less government spends, the more the state economy grows. Agree, disagree, whatever, but there it is. So from his perspective, he is going to cut as much as he can, and say it is good for the state. (This is true in good times and bad.) I think from his perspective, that his “moderate” move was signing the bill rather than vetoing it. Sure he cut it more than Dems. thought, but to Pawlenty it looks like a compromise. And his supporters are cheering him on. Can we really expect anything different from him? I don’t. I’m way past shock and awe at this point.

  8. Submitted by Annette Costello Lee on 03/16/2010 - 01:35 pm.

    To Mark Gisleson: Bravo! Absolutely spot on!

    And while I’m past shock and into puking over our Governor, I still expect him to hold up to the position he was elected to (twice)— where is his Gubernatorial Leadership? We expect him to do what is best for the state, not for his political aspirations. And make no mistake, this misappropriation by his almighty pen is purely political and shortsighted. The man can’t see the forest for the trees…

    But hey… it’s just dumped onto the next Governor’s lap anyway.

  9. Submitted by Rebecca Hoover on 03/16/2010 - 02:29 pm.

    Once again the arts managed to get big bucks from state government while science projects got cut. No wonder Minnesota has economic problems. Sciences, not arts, are our economic engine and the basis for our quality of life. Try have an artist diagnose and cure your health problem.

    The arts lobby acts to the detriment of Minnesota as a whole.

  10. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 03/16/2010 - 03:03 pm.

    I think, Rebecca, that we can’t do without either the sciences or the arts.

    The governor seems to think his job is to withhold funds from that which enhances our intellectual and spiritual life, our health as a community, and any work toward preparing students to participate in an economy that benefits us all.

  11. Submitted by James Hamilton on 03/16/2010 - 04:09 pm.

    I can’t imagine why anyone is surprised that Gov. Pawlenty used his line item veto or what he used it on. The only recourse is to over-ride the veto on specific items or eliminate the line-item veto to prevent its future use. This is politics, after all. Pawlenty has again proved himself more adept at it than his opponents, who gave him what he wanted without Pawlenty having to fire a shot.

  12. Submitted by Henk Tobias on 03/16/2010 - 06:42 pm.

    Who is paying for this yahoo to fly back and forth like this?

  13. Submitted by Patrick Coleman on 03/16/2010 - 07:50 pm.

    RE: Mark G.–I think this is what we call classic passive-aggressive behavior.

  14. Submitted by William Pappas on 03/16/2010 - 08:54 pm.

    Mr. Eldred and Mr. Hamilton you are correct. I keep thinking of Charlie Brown trying to kick the football and Lucy keeps moving it so he whiffs and falls down. That’s what the DFL does every year. Pawlenty plays them like a fiddle. Heck, they even tune it for him. It is simply a metaphor for what the republicans do to the democrats on a national scale in framing the dialogue on just about everything. Nothing new here.

  15. Submitted by Ralf Wyman on 03/16/2010 - 11:48 pm.

    Through his vetoes, the Gov gave up $8.5 million in federal transit funds (probably more, but I know for sure about this chunk for the Union Depot in St. Paul), and $35 million in federal conservation funds.

    That’s a lot of cash to leave on the table when he says we can’t afford to bond. How can we afford to walk away from that money? Other states will snatch it up, leaving Minnesota just that much farther behind.

    But Pawlenty will be living with Minnesota in his rear view mirror (permanently, that is, since he’s almost always away even now) and won’t care how deep the hole is he leaves behind.

    Shameful disregard for our future!

  16. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 03/17/2010 - 08:04 am.

    Something for folks that are concerned about the loss of federal matching bucks:

    The fed is drowning us and our kids with $Trillions of dollars of debt. There are no matching bucks available, only borrowed Yuan.

    Personally, when it’s a matter of convention centers and skiing trails, I’m happy to leave them in Beijing…if some of you thought about it calmly and rationally for a minute, you would be too.

  17. Submitted by Ralf Wyman on 03/17/2010 - 01:40 pm.

    Mr. Swift – you make it sound as if Pawlenty rejecting the items eligible for Fed matching mean the dollars won’t be spent. But that is simply not the case. T-paw’s veto has no impact on the Federal spending, only on WHERE it’s spent.

    If Pawlenty really opposes the federal borrowing, he needs to find a vehicle for that opposition that does’t leave Minnesota behind.

    That debt is sunk, we’re paying for it whether it funds HSR in Wisconsin or here. Or conservation of Minnesota farm land, or Mississippi’s.

  18. Submitted by Bill Coleman on 03/19/2010 - 02:58 pm.

    Pawlenty is nothing but a bully. The legislators are the little kids on the block. One day they try to give him their lunch money, one day they try to hide, one day they try to be nice to him. Doesn’t matter, Pawlenty gets joy only from beating them up. The only solution with a bully is for all of the little kids to stay together; the state GOP doesn’t seem interested even if they lose out on valuable benefits for their districts.

    In eight years, I cannot recall one win-win for Minnesota where people from both sides of the aisle were entirely happy with the result. That is the definition of really poor leadership.

    By the way, we lost 45 million dollars in federal money for the depot in St. Paul with that veto. We would have leveraged our $8 million to get $45 million plus positioned us for more federal funds to support other transit projects that will be spent somewhere else. Unbelievable!

Leave a Reply