With his line-item veto pen ready, Gov. Tim Pawlenty soon will be whacking away at the revised $1 billion bonding bill passed Thursday by the Minnesota House and Senate.
By law, the governor has three days (not including Sunday) to trim the bill to his liking, meaning his deadline is expected to be midnight Monday.
Judging by the tone of a statement made Thursday afternoon by the governor’s spokesman, those trims will be deep — upward of $250 million some bonding bill proponents fear.
“The DFL apparently has no ability to restrain themselves, so once again Governor Pawlenty will be the responsible one that reins in their out-of-control spending,” Brian McClung said in the statement.
Many of the items in the bill have been ridiculed by the governor — and some Republican legislators — as the bill has made its way through the process.
Wirth Park project belittled
No item was belittled as much as a Theodore Wirth Park project seeking $1 million. The governor and some of his party brethren mocked the Minneapolis Park Board request, calling it a snow-tubing track.
But, as is often the case in political rhetoric, the ridicule doesn’t match reality.
The money requested is to be used to build infrastructure needed to create an Olympic cross-country ski training center at Wirth Park. The state’s $1 million would match $1.2 million already raised through the park board and private donations. Combined, those funds would be used to build water mains below the frost line and high-voltage electrical stations. The infrastructure would be used for snow-making operations needed if Wirth is to become a national cross-country ski center.
Where’d the idea of snow tubing come in?
“In the original submission, there were pictures of the way the park is used,” said John Munger. “One of the pictures showed kids snow tubing. That must have been where they got the idea.”
Munger, grandson of the late Minnesota environment giant Rep. Willard Munger, is director of the City of Lakes Nordic Ski Foundation. In the last eight years, he has led a mighty push to make cross country skiing an important addition to the Minneapolis scene.
This video looks at wintertime attractions at Theodore Wirth Park in Minneapolis.
Cross country ski program engaging inner-city students
Munger and his volunteers have taken the sport into the inner-city schools of Minneapolis, outfitting kids with cross country gear and giving them lessons at the current Wirth Center.
“We’ve got little Somali girls with their skirts on and their heads covered out there skiing and having a great time,” said Munger. “Just two days ago, we had kids from Nellie Stone Johnson School [an elementary school of mostly African-American kids] out here having a great time. Every high school [ski] team in the metropolitian area comes here for workouts.”
Munger, with the help of thousands of volunteers, is the person who turned the dream of a Minneapolis cross-country ski event into the City of Lakes Loppet in 2003. This winter, that event attracted 7,000 skiers from 15 states.
The organization also has landed a huge event for Minneapolis next year — the U.S. Junior Olympics cross country ski championships. That event, Munger said, should create $3 million in economic activity in the city.
More importantly, he hopes that if the event goes well, it will lead to more national and international events.
“All of these organizations love the idea of holding their events in a big city,” said Munger.
But that will require infrastructure improvements.
“Through hook and crook, we have some snowmaking ability now,” said Munger. “But if we’re going to become a center, we need to have a more reliable system” in case there’s a warm spell like the current weather.
Munger said he understands priorities, but he finds it frustrating to see the Wirth project so mischaracterized.
Hausman defends bonding proposal process
State Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, has been saying the same thing. It’s easy to pick apart bonding proposals from afar but not so easy when you’re up close and personal and listening to sincere people from across the state making their proposals.
The bonding committees — headed by Hausman and her Senate counterpart, Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon — spent months touring the state and listening to proposals that totaled more than $4 billion.
They vetted that number down to $1 billion and have added several expensive projects at the governor’s insistence, such as more than $40 million for additions to the sexual predator treatment facility (where no one has yet been successfully treated) in Moose Lake. Pawlenty, it should be noted, originally wanted more than $90 million for that progam.
In his veto message, Pawlenty is expected to say that many of the projects are too local to be a statewide priority. Hausman consistently has argued that most of the projects that appear to be in danger could have positive regional economic impact.
And none of them deserve ridicule, she said.
Go back to Munger and the thousands of people who have volunteered to build cross-country skiing in Minneapolis.
Before they came onto the scene, there were about eight kilometers of ski trails in Minneapolis. Grooming was hit and miss. Now, there are more than 25 kilometers of well-maintained trails from the Wirth Park area to the chain of lakes.
The change of scenery along those trails is impressive. At some points, skiers are in the midst of woods.
“You ski a half-kilometer,” said Munger, “and suddenly you have these breath-taking views of the skyline. It’s really special.”
Certainly funding priorities can be argued, but arguments shouldn’t be based on fabrications.
And Munger sees a separate philosophical issue in some bonding decisions, such as the Wirth Park proposal: “We either run away from being a winter city or we embrace it.”
Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.