April 10, 2009
A Short Break for Legislators to Gear-Up for Upcoming Deadlines
Minnesota legislators are taking a break for Easter and Passover before coming back to face some difficult spending decisions, in light of a $4.6 billion budget deficit.
Lawmakers return will return Tuesday and the pace will pick up quickly as they face a Thursday deadline for all finance bills to have made their rounds through the finance divisions. Internal deadlines give legislative finance committees less than a week after that to put the finishing touches on spending bills before sending them to the House and Senate floors for votes.
Minnesota's Constitution requires the Legislature to adjourn no later than May 18. It is still unclear whether or not the Democrats, who control both the House and the Senate, and Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty can reach agreement on a new state budget. If not, the Governor would have to call a special session before the state budget expires on June 30.
Minnesota Continues Distributing Stimulus Dollars
Governor Tim Pawlenty signed two bills this week that will bring millions of federal stimulus money to water infrastructure projects and unemployment aid for Minnesotans.
Minnesota will receive $130 million in unemployment funds as a result of legislation that makes changes needed to qualify for federal funding. Water projects are set to get $107 million. Last week, Governor Pawlenty signed authorization for nearly $600 million in transportation spending due, in part, to stimulus funds.
Minnesota Plans for High Speed Rail and Commuter Rail
Governor Tim Pawlenty has ordered a statewide rail plan to determine the best rail projects for which Minnesota should pursue stimulus funding, of which $8 billion in federal grants is up-for-grabs. Pawlenty stated last Friday that the NorthStar commuter line should be extended to St. Cloud and that studies of a high-speed passenger rail line from the Twin Cities to Chicago should look at a route through Rochester.
Pawlenty argued that the NorthStar line, scheduled to open this fall, should extend to St. Cloud, as was intended when the original plan for the line was developed 14 years ago. What began as a $260 million plan for a commuter train from Minneapolis to St. Cloud has become a $310 million rail line from Minneapolis to Big Lake.
A possible Rochester stop on a high-speed line from the Twin Cities to Chicago might compete with an alternative route following the Mississippi River, from Winona to St. Paul. Governor Pawlenty wants to explore all options and discussed exploring possible high-speed rail stops in both Rochester and Winona with Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle and U.S. Representative Tim Walz (D-MN) earlier this week. He also said a statewide study should include the proposed Northern Lights Express passenger line from Minneapolis to Duluth.
"We should consider every option, including rail, as we build a 21st century transportation system that assists economic development and moves people and goods around the state," Pawlenty said in a statement last Friday.
For up-to-date information about the Minnesota Legislature, tune into Almanac: At the Capitol. This lively and informative program is aired Wednesdays during the legislative session on Twin Cities Public Television at 7:00 PM on Channel 17 and at 10:00 PM on Channel 2.
Almanac: At the Capitol is seen on all public television stations throughout Minnesota and in Fargo. Winthrop & Weinstine is the exclusive law-firm partner and a sponsor of the program.
For more information and to see previous broadcasts, check out the
Almanac: At the Capitol Web site at http://tpt.org/aatc/