The list includes:
- A gas tax
- Income tax cuts
- Tax cuts for certain businesses
- A bridge falling into the river
- Pawlenty's "no new taxes" pledge
- Presidential politics
- The urban / suburban / rural divide
- Long-term transit investment
But there's also a lot of personal and political currency at play. Pawlenty has been largely outmaneuvered this session for the first time in years, and is grasping at straws. After passing a veto over-ride on a transportation funding package, the DFL legislature set him up to play the Grinch on this year's investment package, giving him a larger-than-normal set of bonding projects and daring him to veto popular proposals.
Rather than merely playing the role of the bad guy, he went for the nuclear option, and vetoed the only thing in the bonding package that was absolutey crucial and time-sensitive, the Central Corridor LRT funding, which is a small part of a big package garnering Federal, State, County and City dollars in micro-managed coordination.
What's at stake is really huge for the Twin Cities, not just Saint Paul and Minneapolis, but the entire metro area region. Millions of dollars have been spent on planning for the Central Corridor, and millions of dollars of infrastructural investment has already been made along the route.
But the money already spent is just a fraction of what's on the table. Hundreds of millions of dollars of Federal money is ready to be invested in the Twin Cities region, and the amount of economic development it will likely spur is huge, vastly outweighing the paltry $70 million sum that Pawlenty is dangling just out of reach.
I talked to a bunch of urban planners today, including people that work on the project, and most of them aren't worried. There's a lot of faith in the system to overcome political hurdles, especially with a project like this that is so near completion.
The consensus view is that Pawlenty is using this as a political football, and still supports the project. (As he should. It's popular with the business community, his ostensible base, not to mention the public.)
But there's another question, too. Pawlenty has been oft discussed as McCain's Vice Presidential candidate, and as Adam Platt describes, has long harbored national political ambitions. Perhaps the Governor is past the point of caring about state interests, and posing as a hard-line conservative by scuttling a huge government project is just the thing that will win him support with the wingnuts McCain is seeking to woo.
So, the question really is: Does Pawlenty's commitment to the state's economic prosperity outweigh his personal political ambitions?
A long-time Minnesota reporter told me a while back that he thought Governor Pawlenty was "the most talented politician he'd ever seen." Of course, the guy didn't agree with any of his principles, but even the most liberal among us have to admire his ability to stay popular despite driving state government into the ground. I hope that's the case, and that Pawlenty really does back down. I'm not entirely optimistic, though.
Because he does have the power to stop the LRT, at least for a year or two. And, with such heavy competition for scarce federal dollars, especially in a recession, that might make all the difference.
[Are these toy trains popular? Do you want one? OK, here you go. Go ahead, take it.
One of the things I'm curious about. If Pawlenty does manage to scuttle the Central Corridor, it would be a huge blow to the economic vitality of Saint Paul.
Might that affect the upcoming Republican National Convention? Might Coleman, Saint Paul politicos, and the City Council try to embarrass him during his moment in the sun? Can they do that? Is Pawlenty willing to find out?