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Transit faces cuts

Reps. Steve Drazkowski of Wabasha (front) and Tim Kelly of Red Wing concentrate on bill details Saturday as the Minnesota House meets in a rare weekend session. Don Davis/Minn. State Capitol Bureau

ST. PAUL - Transit programs would receive less money under a House-passed bill, part of an effort to balance the state budget.

Still, the House transportation finance chairman said, "it is going to keep rural and metro transit operating." The House passed the bill by Rep. Bernie Lieder, DFL-Crookston, 86-45 after about two hours of Saturday debate.

The measure chops $8.4 million from transit funding, both for the Twin Cities and greater Minnesota, for the next two years. Smaller cuts were handed other transportation and public safety programs.

The cuts only are from the general fund, supported by state tax dollars. Other transportation revenues have been less affected by the current recession

Also included in the bill is a provision promoted by Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, to allow drivers to temporarily exceed speed limit to pass a vehicle in 55 mph zone.

Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, tried to pull the Rukavina provision, saying it "encourages drivers to drive faster and faster."

However, Rukavina counted, allowing the faster passing speeds is safer than a line of cars building up behind a slow-moving vehicle.

The measure also funds a Minnesota Department of Transportation office to oversee passenger rail service throughout the state.

Drinking OK

Senators decided on Saturday that it is fine if people drink alcohol in state rest areas, but then decided to take a rest and rethink its decision later.

On a 26-25 vote, they took a provision out of a bill that would have made it a crime to drink in state rest areas. The bill, which would make it illegal to dump household or commercial trash in rest areas or to not properly dispose of trash, was postponed because not enough senators were in the Capitol Saturday.

Bill sponsor Sen. Tony Lourey, DFL-Kerrick, said that he does not understand the problem with outlawing drinking in rest areas.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation asked Lourey to sponsor the bill, including banning drinking. No one complained about the provision when committees debated the bill in the past few weeks.

But Sen. Dick Day, R-Owatonna, said he sees no difference between drinking in a park and a rest area, and drinking generally is allowed in parks.

Sen. Tarryl Clark, DFL-St. Cloud, said there is a question about whether some facilities that serve as both rest areas and parks would fall under the bill.

Clark, assistant Senate majority leader, said the bill will be discussed again when more senators are in the chamber.

Dilly of a day

Most representatives attended a rare Saturday session, but a casual observer would have wondered about that early in the afternoon.

The House chamber was all but cleared out at one point. Representatives mostly were in a back room eating Dilly Bars, a once-a-year treat that lawmakers enjoy.

Earlier in the week, representatives shared cheese, Swan's ice cream and gooey rolls.

No bonding

A public works measure, known as the bonding will, remains in dispute.

Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, Saturday said the committee he heads and one from the House cannot agree on how much to spend. Senators prefer borrowing more money for public works projects around the state than the House would like.

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.