To the dismay of advocates, rhetoric and ridicule are unfairly characterizing some bonding bill proposals

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.

You can also learn about all our free newsletter options.

Comments (16)

  1. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 03/12/2010 - 09:13 am.

    Ah, yes… Tim Pawlenty and Brian McClung, the Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh of Minnesota Politics, with all the honest, accurate, carefully-reasoned perspective of all the other denizens and watchers of Weasel News.

    Could it be any clearer that Tim, Brian, and the Rebs. in general have a visceral hatred of the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul and wish to punish them for having what they regard to be all those dirty, needy, seedy, (criminal?) people whom they wish would just leave the state and go somewhere else?

  2. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 03/12/2010 - 09:44 am.

    This project is not the only “snow job” in the bonding bill.

    Let’s be honest, much of the bonding bill is a political “pay-off” to DFL donors.

  3. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 03/12/2010 - 09:45 am.

    It’s really easy to attack Timmy on this one, but the real lesson is how screwed-up the bonding process in this state is and how the power is truly concentrated in the hands of very, very few people. Timmy may reject projects out of personal pique, but so do the DFLers on the legislative side as well. Neither side is immune to rightful charges of hypocrisy.

  4. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 03/12/2010 - 10:13 am.

    Minneapolis resident and US Olympic Nordic skier Garrott Kuzzy advocates for this project. What follows are some highlights from his letter to the governor urging the governor to support this project.

    //This project has state-wide significance. The Winter Training Center will allow Minnesota to attract national and international events like:

    The United States Ski Association’s (USSA’s) Junior Olympics (1,000+ people for 10 days each year)

    USSA’s Senior Nationals (1,000+ people for 10 days each year)

    World Masters Championships (1,500 people for 10 days)

    These events will have a dramatic economic impact on the Minnesota economy. The 2011 Junior Olympics alone will have about a $3 million impact – with about $1 million in hotel stays alone.//

    Some of the United States’ top Olympic skiers – including Garrot Kuzzy and teammate, Caitlin Compton – train at Wirth Park. With infrastructure improvements, Olympic-level athletes will continue to train and compete in Minnesota – with the chances of Gold Medal performances significantly enhanced.

    //With $1.2 million in matching funds, including $300,000 in direct private contributions, the Winter Training Center leverages significant community support. Moreover, because of this private support, this project is ready for short-term action and the state’s investment will yield both immediate jobs in construction and good longer-term jobs in tourism and servicing of the facility (jobs that will be paid for through use fees rather than ongoing tax revenue).

    The Winter Training Center is the unique project that pays for itself through economic impact to the state while at the same time fostering other state-wide benefits like long-term jobs, Olympic-level facilities and a reduction in obesity. The environmental benefit of having World Class trails right in heart of the city allows more skiers from the Twin Cities to get outside and enjoy winter closer to home.//

    This project should be supported on its own merits. It promotes winter tourism, creates opportunity for the hospitality industry and related business’s during a season that is not necessarily considered our peak tourist season.

  5. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 03/12/2010 - 10:19 am.

    If there were pictures of snow tubing on the friggin’ application, how is mentioning snow tubing unfair characterization?

    I may be mistaken here, because I don’t ride one, but don’t snow mobile clubs, private clubs, maintain their trails? What’s wrong with X-country skiers pitching in to do the same for their venues?

    Further, and again admitting I have no data to prove it, aren’t there a whole lot more snow mobile enthusiasts in Minnesota than skiers? Are there any snow mobile trails outfitted with snow making equipment? Isn’t Minnesota the hub of snow moblie manufacture…how many billions is *that* worth?

    I like to ski…but I’m perfectly willing to wait until it snows the old fashioned way.

  6. Submitted by dan buechler on 03/12/2010 - 10:54 am.

    I don’t know but as of yet I’m probably with Kevin on this one. I have a son who skis prep in St. Paul and it is a wonderful program i.e. co-ed, relatively lowcost and attracts high achievers and veried athletes. I do not like the way the GOP slams the core cities but then of course they never get support there and some of the old local distinguished west metro business leaders are gone now. What a different picture there would be if greater rationalized annexation had occurred earlier in our history.

  7. Submitted by Ginny Martin on 03/12/2010 - 11:13 am.

    This proposal sounds like a winner all the way around–bringing in money from national and international events AND getting inner city kids out to ski and enjoy our winters (while we have them).
    Maybe someone should lead guided tours of the city for our more rural lawmakers. They seem to have little idea of what’s going on.

  8. Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 03/12/2010 - 11:23 am.

    I don’t understand throwing money away. When the governor refuses to appropriate money that brings in matching funds, throwing away money is actually what he’s doing. He’s doing that with public broadcasting funding and he’s done it with highway funds too, cutting projects that come with federal matches and thereby costing money, not saving it.

    Why is it so hard just to argue a project on its merits? It’s fundamentally dishonest to engage in hyperbole like “The DFL apparently has no ability to restrain themselves…” when the DFL rejected three-quarters of requests.

  9. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 03/12/2010 - 01:15 pm.

    The economic benefits to the local economy far outweigh the cost of this project. Please refer to “return on investment” outlined in my comment.

    Mr Swift: Wisconsin and Michigan have huge budgets for maintaining and grooming their “snowmobile trails”. The return on their investment is the tourist dollar that impacts their winter economy. Although MN does have a budget for grooming snowmobile trials is far less than Wisconsin and Michigan. This of course is paid for in part by license fees generated by owning a snowmobile.

    Minnesota skiers support trail grooming and development by purchasing a MN ski pass. Three Rivers Parks and various other trails and counties require the purchase of a ski pass to ski their trails as well. Minneapolis Park and Rec requires a ski pass to use their trails, this would include Theodore Wirth Park.

    To sum up. Skiers pay for the privilege to use ski trails. Their “user fees” help pay for the costs of maintaining the trails and of venues. Skiers also have a long history of supporting trails in Minnesota by “volunteering” in the off season to help trim and maintain the trails in their area.

  10. Submitted by Dave Kopesky on 03/12/2010 - 02:39 pm.

    I am upset that Timmy has usurped the legislature’s ability to participate in setting funding priorities with his line item pen. However this is another illustration of the DFL’s inability to recognize that at the present time we can’t fund every “worthwhile” project and some fiscal restraint is also needed. I hope after the next election we have a governor and legislative leaders who feel “compromise” is not a dirty word. With all the bluster and demagoguery from the right locally and nationally I am not optimistic.

  11. Submitted by dan buechler on 03/12/2010 - 03:57 pm.

    Mr. Grow I think your article here probably does a disservice to the bonding bill. A great deal of the money will go to bridge repair and probably a great deal of jobs will be funded with it. See todays strib. Still like your work and there should be a lengthier piece/interview with Senator Hausman.

  12. Submitted by Ginny Martin on 03/12/2010 - 08:15 pm.

    It sometimes appears that some of the people who comment on an article did not read it.

  13. Submitted by William Pappas on 03/12/2010 - 10:14 pm.

    Hey Thomas, I’m not sure you can say that more people snowmobile than x-country ski. Your absurd comparison that snowmaking does not occur on snowmobile trails is irrelevant. Besides a small acreage of ski trails can keep hundreds of skiers treking all day while it takes many miles of snowmobile trails to keep the same number of participants even mildly amused. Its also nice that in an urban area you wouldn’t even know those same skiers were in the park if you didn’t see them. Those same number of snowmobilers can be heard miles away, every one of them. What I’m saying Thomas is that it is a lot of bang for the buck and allows city residents a lower cost form of exercise and recreation. But I guess that would be a quality of life improvement for citizens, created by public investment. Can’t have that.

  14. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 03/13/2010 - 07:26 am.

    Recreational skiiers outnumber recreational snowmobilers by 30 or so to 1. It’s not even close.

    And as someone formerly owning land in rural Minnesota (up by Nickerson) which was illegally trespassed every winter day by snowmobilers, I can tell you that there’s no such thing as a club privately maintaining trails.

  15. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 03/13/2010 - 07:28 am.

    Dan: Hausman is part of the problem, if we discuss projects being rejected because of personal pique. Ask Chris Coleman about that,

  16. Submitted by Annette Costello Lee on 03/15/2010 - 12:05 pm.

    This is such a worthwhile project! Another case of Timmy cutting off his nose to spite his face. And yes, we are ‘losing’ money!
    What is the deal with his huge promotion of/to the sexual predator treatment facility (where no one has yet been successfully treated) in Moose Lake?? (Pawlenty originally wanted more than $90 million for that program.) What a tool!

Leave a Reply