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The End of the Pork Barrel?
by Michael Khoo
March 15, 2000
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Minnesota's House Republicans have released their 2000 bonding proposal which they say is free of the pork-barrel spending of the past. The $400 million package conforms with Governor Jesse Ventura's spending target but falls short of what Senate DFLers will likely request.

Some provisions in the House Republican bonding bill:
$66.6 million for the University of Minnesota.
$103.2 million for Minnesota State Colleges and Universities.
$51.5 million for various Department of Children, Families and Learning projects.
$37.3 million for various Department of Natural Resources projects, including flood hazard grants and fisheries improvements.
$30 million for a new Bureau of Criminal Apprehension lab and renovations to the existing St. Paul building.
$20 million for Rural Finance Authority loans to farmers for mortgage assistance.
$44 million for local bridge repair and replacement.
$14.8 million for various Department of Human Services projects.
$16.7 million for various Department of Corrections projects.
$12.8 million for veterans homes.
$41.2 million for wastewater projects and other infrastructure upgrades.
$4 million for the Amateur Sports Commission for the Mighty Kicks or Mighty Ducks programs.
$150,000 for a World War II memorial in St. Paul.
EVERY TWO YEARS lawmakers put together a capital budget for major construction projects, most of which are paid for through borrowing. In Governor Ventura's first run through the process, he has made clear from the start he wants to keep the total package within $400 million and to exclude projects that don't fill a statewide need.

House Majority Leader Tim Pawlenty says the Republicans concurred. "That reflects a new philosophy or a new governing approach to reform the bonding process in Minnesota to make sure it's not only fiscally responsible, but that the projects that the state is funding have at least regional significance and hopefully statewide significance," Pawlenty said. "We're trying to bring to a close those days where perhaps a municipal waterpark or some other projects were funded using primarily state dollars."

The Republican bill fits Ventura's spending targets, but it's not exactly a carbon copy. House Speaker Steve Sviggum says Ventura's approach was slanted towards the metropolitan area and neglected higher education needs. "We have brought projects to Crookston, to Winona, to Morris, to St. Cloud, to Mankato in this bill in higher education," he said. "In higher education and K-12 education, those two combined will represent well over half of this bonding bill."

Increasing education spending while staying within the governor's spending cap means shuffling dollars - in this case away from a new crime lab for the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. Ventura is seeking $58 million for that project while House Republicans allocate less than $28 million.

Finance commissioner Pam Wheelock says it's unfair to criticize Ventura for neglecting rural Minnesota while - at the same time - cutting BCA funding. "Some facilities we're really constructing to provide support for law enforcement throughout the state and for court officials as well. And that the benefit of that is statewide," she said.

But John Hofland says the GOP bill is a significant improvement over the governor's. Hofland represents the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities. "The clear winner and the smart move they made was to increase the investment in higher education, especially in greater Minnesota," he said. "That's really going to be greater Minnesota's key to economic development and staying strong economically."

Hofland also says he thinks the $400 million bonding limit has been set too low. He says it excludes many worthy projects throughout the state. And Senate DFLers are inclined to agree.