What's at stake with Pawlenty's Central Corridor veto?

Well, Twin Cities' politics is rarely as interesting as it is right now. Pawlenty's veto yesterday of state funding for the Central Corridor Light Rail line represents the culimination of a host of events and motives that have taken place and materialized through decades of political wrangling.

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.

h/t regionalrail.org]


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?


Polymander said...

I hope John McCain lures the bastard onto his private jet and then punches his skeezy little teeth in.

That said, what do you think are the most promising avenues for getting around this? Could the legislature re-pass the $70 million? Do you think they would stand any chance of scraping together a veto-proof majority?

Bill Lindeke said...

My opinion is no, but I guess I don't know that much.

One of the problems is that the Central Corridor only directly affects people in Minneapolis and Saint Paul (though it indirectly affects the whole region). Therefore, the GOP legislatures who supported the transportation package are far less likely to support an override on just this issue, as they are only likely to lose votes.

And, almost all of them are running for re-election in the fall, in what promises to be very close races.

So, no, I don't see that happening at all.

But, the crux of the matter is that the application to the Federal Transportation Administration has to have $200 million of local funding in place by September, and this $70 million was the last missing piece. I suppose it could come from somewhere else (the county?!) , but it's probably unlikely.

In my understanding, if the money doesn't come from the state this year, the best case scenario is a delay for a year, and a supplemental bonding bill is passed next year.

Hopefully, by then the DFL will have picked up a few more seats and veto overrides will be far easier. They're within 5 seats now! All they need is two or three more and they could pretty much ignore the Governor. (And he knows it.)

Bill Lindeke said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
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