Sept. 30, 2007
Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty has a tough choice to make on Monday. Legislators have sent him a letter indicating he can either show up to tell a legislative committee how the money he said he had for the 35W bridge disappeared just as suddenly as the bridge did, or he faces delaying other transportation projects.
The "Transportation Contingent Appropriations Group" is the legislative commission that must approve Governor Pawlenty's request to use money from the state's reserves to cover costs for the 35W bridge rebuilding. Earlier this month, Governor Pawlenty convinced legislative leaders that a special session on transportation was not needed because the Federal Government was paying for the 35W bridge reconstruction and the state had plenty of funds to cover its obligations.
Since then, President George Bush has threatened to veto the legislation that contains the funding for the 35W bridge. Also, the Minnesota Department of Transportation has said it needs to use the state's reserve funds to pay for the 35W bridge or it will need to delay other construction projects.
Before the special session Lt. Governor Carol Molnau, who is also the head of the Department of Transportation testified that the funds were there. This is a portion of her testimony to the Joint House and Senate Transportation Committee:
Senator Steve Murphy: Lt. Governor, I believe the question is: are there going to be other projects delayed because of this delay in payments from the Federal government?The commission has sent the Governor a letter asking him to appear before it on Monday to explain why the financial information he and the Lt. Governor gave lawmakers last month turned out to be wrong.
Molnau: I’m hoping that there will not be. I don’t believe so. I think we do have some resources that we can, can move to if we have a project we’re going to let, we can bond rather than pay out in full right now, if we have to do that, and then reimburse the bonds using those Federal dollars. So, I think we can pretty much take care of what we need to take care of on this project, if that’s what you’re asking for, with not, hopefully not a lot of negative impact to other projects or delays.
Murphy: The bonding authority that you’re talking about, where is that from?
Molnau: I’m assuming… now I think we can bond for something, that we do have some authority to do some additional bonding. So I think we can do that…ah... on some of it. Knowing that it would be short term, or we can do short-term borrowing from other accounts, and we can do that.
Murphy: the (undecipherable) funds?
Molnau – We could use some of those, yes but we also have opportunities, at least from what we’ve heard …as we’ve talked to the department of finance of being able to… and we’ve done this before knowing there are dollars coming in behind it to do some short term borrowing.
Because of the unprecedented nature of the request, we believe it will be to the public’s benefit for a full discussion of the request made by your administration. It is our hope that you, and your representatives, will attend the meeting to provide insight into the reasons behind the request and the delay in federal funding promised to the state to meet the reconstruction needs of the I-35W bridge.The commission meets Monday at 11 AM in room 15 of the State Capitol. If Governor Pawlenty shows up, he will face some rather pointed questions such as, "how did the money you said we had disappear?". If he doesn't show up, it is very likely the Department of Transportation will need to delay construction projects, which will cost taxpayers even more money.
We look forward to the opportunity to discuss this matter during this important public meeting.