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Langseth seeks more flood aid

Gov. Tim Pawlenty addresses reporters after meeting Tuesday with Minnesota Senate Republicans. Also pictured is Senate Minority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester. Scott Wente/Minn. State Capitol Bureau

ST. PAUL - Minnesota communities facing the flooding threats need more state assistance, the top state senator on public works projects said.

Sen. Keith Langseth, who represents Red River Valley communities fighting a second flood crest this week, said Tuesday a public works spending package under negotiation should include nearly double the flood aid he earlier proposed.

The Senate's public works package included $26 million for flood mitigation in communities around the state, but during a meeting with House public works negotiators Langseth said the Legislature should boost flood aid this year to $50 million.

The House public works bill included $12.7 million for flood-prevention projects. Gov. Tim Pawlenty said flood projects deserve more than either the House or Senate originally proposed.

An infusion of federal economic stimulus funds and work completed on other flood-mitigation projects means more state-borrowed funds are necessary, Langseth said.

"I think we stand a fair chance of getting $50 million and that would get an awful lot of things done in the Red River Valley that are uncompleted at this time," the Glyndon DFLer said.

A House-Senate conference committee is negotiating differences between bills passed in recent weeks.

Vermilion park sinks

Gov. Tim Pawlenty said he has all but given up on his plan to turn undeveloped Lake Vermilion shoreline into a state park.

Pawlenty said Tuesday that news of a tentative housing development deal between St. Louis County and U.S. Steel, which owns land along the northern Minnesota lake, ends the state's pursuit of the property.

"It's an unfortunate development, but we've done all we can," Pawlenty said.

The state and U.S. Steel could not reach agreement on a sale price for the land. Pawlenty, who proposed the park in 2007, said law prohibits the state from paying more than "fair value" for property.

Only the Legislature could change that policy, but Pawlenty said "it's not responsible" to pay more than fair value.

"It's disappointing," Pawlenty said of the failed park plan.

Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, a skeptic of the park proposal, said he had warned Pawlenty administration officials that it would be difficult to negotiate a purchase price with U.S. Steel.

Federal aid helps

Lawmakers say federal economic stimulus funds are softening the effect of state budget reductions to public colleges and universities.

In higher education spending proposals announced Tuesday, senators propose up to 4 percent reductions in state funds to the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities systems over the next two-year budget period.

Democratic Rep. Tom Rukavina of Virginia, the House higher education chairman, said his budget proposal generally would maintain existing funding to the public colleges and universities, thanks to federal aid.

Both chambers propose directing around $1.3 billion in state and federal aid to each system during the two-year budget period beginning July 1.

Rep. Bud Nornes, the top Republican on the House committee, said public colleges and universities should be satisfied with the House bill because it makes few cuts.

"They ought to be feeling pretty good," the Fergus Falls lawmaker said.

Preserve lumber facilities

Some lawmakers want to require that a lumber or wood products company that shutters operations in Minnesota maintain its facilities for at least two years after closure.

The proposal also would prevent a lumber company employing more than 100 people from permanently removing equipment from a closed facility for two years.

Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, said the provision, which is included in his House workforce development bill, is aimed at the Ainsworth Lumber Co., which closed its Bemidji and Cook facilities early this year.

Senators are advancing similar legislation.

GOP 'united'

Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Minnesota Senate Republicans emerged from a closed-door meeting Tuesday to say they will fight any Democrat-proposed tax increases.

Pawlenty, who recently held a similar meeting with House Republicans, reiterated his concern that Democratic lawmakers' self-imposed deadline to pass budget bills by a week before the Legislature's May 18 adjournment leaves little time for further negotiations if bills are vetoed.

The governor said he has no plans to meet with Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party legislative leaders because they have not passed budget bills, but has met with DFL lawmakers who lead budget committees.

Anderson honored

A portion of U.S. 53 in northern Minnesota will be named in honor of former House Speaker Irv Anderson, DFL-International Falls, if the governor signs a bill headed his way.

Senators Tuesday voted 63-0 in favor of the bill, following a similar overwhelming support by the House. The bill now goes to the governor.

Anderson died last year.

State Capitol reporter Don Davis contributed to this report.