Monday, May 07, 2007

In for a penny, not a pound 

St. Cloud Times writer and SCBA member Larry Schumacher thinks the Browns Valley bill means no big bonding bill this year.

My Magic 8-Ball keeps coming up "Don't count on it" when I ask whether the Legislature will pass another bonding bill this year.

That's bad news for St. Cloud State University ice hockey fans, Northstar commuter rail supporters and the infrastructure of our public higher education institutions in this area. All are depending on the state for funding this year.

But when Gov. Tim Pawlenty vetoed the $334 million state construction projects bill last week, lawmakers responded by taking out $2 million in funding for flood-damaged Browns Valley and passing it separately.

Taking care of that crisis is a pretty clear signal that the bonding bill isn't a must-do with two weeks remaining in the session.

I'm not as sure, but that seems pretty logical to me. What doesn't make sense is what he says next.

As I write this column, there's still no agreement on an overall budget framework. That doesn't make me as fearful of a special session as some, because there's enough time for the DFL-controlled Legislature to send Pawlenty the big budget bills with a tax increase, have him veto them and still pass a scaled-back budget before the end of the session.

In fact, I'm going to go ahead and predict that there won't be a special session and that lawmakers will finish their budget work on time.

I'm less certain they can do all that and still come back with a bonding bill before time's up.

Not that it couldn't be done. Having been here once before, I know the big bills can be drawn up and approved in 24 hours or less, largely because staffers will stay up all night to get it done.

But it's far from ideal, and because there's always next year in the bonding bill game, I wouldn't reserve tickets for those new box seats anytime soon.

There may be next year in the bonding bill game, but having a bonding bill you can use to buy votes to pass the budget this year is probably some needed grease. I have said before that I believe there will be a special session -- Larry, if the paper's rules allow it, I'll bet breakfast at Panera on this -- but the ONLY way Larry can be right is if there is enough extra money put in to the budget to buy the votes needed to pass this, that allocates some of those extra dollars to vulnerable Republicans (unlike the current DFL-led Legislature proposal). I.e., you can't pass the budget without either the bonding bill or a war of attrition between the DFL and the governor.

So I think Larry will bat .500 -- either there will be no bonding bill, in which case the DFL will have enough angry hornets buzzing to force a special session; or there will be a bonding bill. And if there is one, bet that it will be very close to the size of the House bonding bill. That's a compromise I can imagine the governor taking, promising to hold down the 2008 bonding bill in return and setting up another confrontation next spring.

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