Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Buffers and hostages 

I think this post by Drew Emmer may have nailed it better than we thought.
When Larry Pogemiller took "buffer language" out of the disaster relief bill during the amazingly polite one day Special Legislative Session the only folks with a clue about what he was doing were a very few leaders in the House, Senate and Governor's office. Remember, nothing was allowed in or out of that $157 million emergency funding bill without the consent of Margaret Kelliher, Larry Pogemiller and Tim Pawlenty.

...With the gavel adjourning the Special Session still echoing in our ears our politically astute Governor took to the airwaves to voice his concern about the possibility that Uncle Sam may end up being tardy in the delivery of the $250 million Congress pledged to rebuild the bridge.

So if you are concerned about the feds timeliness with the bridge dough, why did you allow Larry to remove the language that would allow MNDOT to act as the funding buffer until the federal cash was indeed transferred?
The reason, I suspect is that the transportation bill in May empowers a special Legislative Advisory Committee to move forward second-year monies to the first year of the biennium (Sec. 3, Subd. 9) "for trunk highway design, construction, or inspection in order to take advantage of an unanticipated receipt of income to the trunk highway fund or to take advantage of federal advanced construction funding" as well as "for trunk highway maintenance in order to meet an emergency."

This has set of a political debate that now has gone public, with the governor's office issuing a press release asking the DFL leadership to "put politics aside and do the right thing by granting the spending authorization to deal with this emergency situation.� This afternoon, the battle escalated as the DFL went into hostage-taking mode:

Several Democratic legislators today asked Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty to fire his transportation commissioner, Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau, for mismanaging her agency.

More importantly, the DFLers said, if Pawlenty doesn't dump Molnau, they will.

If she remains in office when the Legislature reconvenes Feb. 12, Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, said he would move within three days to have the Senate reject Molnau's confirmation as head of the Minnesota Department of Transportation. "We have the votes to reject her confirmation," Murphy said at news conference below the rusting Lafayette Bridge near downtown St. Paul.

A negative Senate vote would remove Molnau from her MnDOT post, but she would continue as lieutenant governor.

"Gov. Pawlenty is not going to fire Lt. Gov. Molnau," the governor's spokesman, Brian McClung, said. "We've heard these kinds of calls from Senator Murphy multiple times in the past, and we are hopeful he'll be able to move beyond the personal attacks to work with us together to find a compromise, comprehensive transportation plan."

The question is, was there an agreement on the buffer money before the special session, and why wasn't it in the bill that passed? While you were passing the $53 million that was in the appropriation, why not get the authority at the same time? Was it ever in there? I have checked the Senate and House websites and see no evidence. I will be asking questions of people throughout the rest of this week about this, which may be the story that dominates state politics the rest of the year.

I'm a little nervous about McClung's last line about "compromise, comprehensive transportation plans;" down that road lay tax increases.

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