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House leader: Pawlenty threatened projects

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ST. PAUL - House Majority Leader Tony Sertich says Gov. Tim Pawlenty erased $1.5 million in state construction projects from his district as revenge for comments he made about the Republican governor.

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The Chisholm Democrat told reporters Friday that on March 14 a Pawlenty staff member called with what he said was a message from the governor: "I have a hockey analogy for you. Cheap shots are cheap, but they are not free."

Sertich said the staffer went on to say that Pawlenty threatened to veto projects in Sertich's northeastern Minnesota district. Earlier that day, Sertich had criticized Pawlenty for not working with legislators.

Pawlenty's spokesman complained that Sertich went public with the conversation, but he did not deny the call took place.

"When speaking with Rep. Sertich, no one on our staff linked projects in the bonding bill to any comments made regarding the relative value of cheap shots," spokesman Brian McClung said.

McClung appeared upset that Sertich talked about the call.

"Even if others do not, we respect the spirit of confidentiality that is generally part of private conversations, so I won't go into great detail regarding who said what," McClung said in a written statement responding to reporters' questions.

In announcing the vetoes Monday, Pawlenty said the Democratic-controlled Legislature wanted to spend too much money on public works projects.

McClung said that Sertich and other lawmakers "had fair notice of the consequences if they chose to violate the state's credit card limit by passing a fiscally irresponsible bonding bill.

In fact, after they did so, they recommended that the governor line-item (veto) projects, rather than veto the whole bill."

Sertich refused to say who on Pawlenty's staff called him, despite repeated attempts by reporters to find out. He said reporters would have to ask Pawlenty directly if he sent the message, but the governor apparently is out of town and not available.

When Pawlenty announced vetoes of 52 projects from a public works funding bill on Monday, it included all three in Sertich's district:

-- $500,000 for a Floodwood business park project. In vetoing it, Pawlenty said the project should compete with other similar projects in a state grant program.

-- $750,000 to turn the St. Louis County Fairgrounds in Chisholm into a competition and exhibit center.

-- $250,000 to renovate the Hibbing Memorial Building.

In his veto message, the governor said: "The bill contains too many appropriations for specific local projects, which are funded while some statewide priority needs are disregarded."

And in comments after Monday's vetoes, although not specifically directed at the Sertich district projects, the governor said he took no actions against any particular lawmaker or against Democrats in general.

Sertich said he told a few other Democrats about the threat, but did not make it public until Friday.

But now, he said, he went public with the comments because he fears further retribution on a bill Pawlenty probably will receive in a few days.

That bill, which the House passed 88-45 Thursday, would fund a study of Iron Range miners who contracted a rare lung cancer known as mesothelioma. Many Sertich constituents have the disease.

Pawlenty said he probably would veto the bill because he disagrees with where lawmakers propose getting money to fund the University of Minnesota study.

The governor and other Republicans agree the study is needed, but say it should be funded from Iron Range-related accounts instead of one that collects money from most Minnesota businesses.

Sertich said he is not the one who suffers from retaliation.

"This was not a threat against me," he said. "It was a threat to veto projects. ... He takes it out on the people of northern Minnesota."

Sertich said he thought Pawlenty singled him out because Minnesota Public Radio quoted him as criticizing the governor about being not engaged in the legislative process. Those comments followed a report spelling out Pawlenty's frequent out-of-state trips.

Sertich's charges follow ones by St. Paul Democrats who say Pawlenty extracted revenge against Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, who led House public works negotiations.

But on his Friday radio show, Pawlenty said two of the vetoes St. Paul leaders dispute are not really that city's projects.

One is a passenger rail line between St. Paul and Minneapolis that has a much broader impact than just St. Paul, Pawlenty said. The other is a University of Minnesota project that just happens to be in St. Paul.

The governor also vetoed an $11 million project for a St. Paul zoo, but let one St. Paul college project survive.

During negotiations, Hausman said she wanted to work with the governor and she long lobbied her colleagues for a bill closer to the size Pawlenty wanted than what they sought.

The governor has delivered harsh critiques about Hausman's counterpart, Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, but vetoed just one project in his district.

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Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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