Bonding negotiators agree on funding level
ST. PAUL -- Key legislators agreed on public works spending Wednesday, an important step before lawmakers can finish for the year next week.
Behind-the-scenes negotiations on other major issues, such as constructing stadiums, also were reported to be progressing well.
"We are still poised to finish early," Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar, told Mary Lahammer on Twin Cities Public Television's "Almanac: At the Capitol."
Ironically, Johnson and House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, were together on the show for one of the few times in recent days. Usually, Johnson, Sviggum and Gov. Tim Pawlenty would be huddled in an office trying to figure out ways to bridge differences with nine days remaining in the legislative session. But the big three have not met lately, although they may today.
On Wednesday, negotiators agreed - through a pair of news conferences - how much to spend on public works projects, the legislative session's top priority.
The Senate has agreed to spend less on public works projects that its original $1 billion-plus plan.
Under the Senate proposal, the total of all funds would push $1 billion, with $949 million to be repaid by general tax money.
"We're willing to compromise and meet the House at their number if that's what it takes to get the bill done on time," Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, said.
Langseth and Rep. Dan Dorman, R-Albert Lea - chief public works negotiators - have traded barbs in recent days. However, on Wednesday Dorman told reporters he liked Langseth's offer.
"We apparently have an agreement on the overall size of the bill," Dorman said. "We are 70, 80 percent there."
However, Langseth and Dorman have not talked for days. Langseth released his offer in a morning news conference and Dorman replied in an afternoon meeting with reporters.
Langseth said even if the two sides agree on the total amount for public works projects, several individual projects remain in doubt.
For instance, while both chambers want to fund renovation of Minnesota State University Moorhead's MacLean Hall, in Langseth's district, Dorman does not want to fund planning for the renovation of nearby Lommen Hall. Langseth does not fund a project in Dorman's district.
Dorman said he probably will call a meeting late today or Friday, and negotiators could finish their work in one meeting.
However, Pawlenty says the near-deal is too rich.
"From our perspective, we would like to see a bonding bill with a total price tag in the neighborhood of $960 million," Pawlenty spokesman Brian McClung said.
Sviggum often has said once the public works bill - popularly known as the bonding bill - passes, legislators can end their 2006 session.