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Pawlenty rules out special session

ST. PAUL - See you in February.

That was Gov. Tim Pawlenty's message Monday to Democratic lawmakers seeking a special legislative session as a partial remedy to a gloomy economic forecast.

Pawlenty rejected the request during a brief meeting with Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller and House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher.

The Republican governor "encouraged the Legislature to be poised for quick action when they return in February," Matt Kramer, Pawlenty's chief of staff, said afterward.

Finance officials say Minnesota faces a projected $373 million state budget deficit during the current two-year budget period and an economy that is expected to worsen over the next several months. Minnesota's job growth lags behind what is happening across the United States.

Lawmakers said a special legislative session could have resulted in increased tax revenue and more construction jobs beginning yet this month.

"The governor just doesn't seem interested in doing that," said Pogemiller, like Kelliher a Minneapolis Democrat.

Pogemiller and Kelliher proposed a $320 million bonding bill, focused on preservation of state buildings and public colleges and universities, local bridge work and infrastructure for a planned Iron Range steel plant.

They also sought Pawlenty's agreement to end a tax policy that allows some corporations with foreign operations to avoid paying state taxes and use that money to help fill the projected budget deficit.

Pawlenty favors closing the corporate tax loophole, but prefers using the revenue to lower Minnesotans' income and property taxes, Kramer said.

The 2008 regular legislative session begins on Feb. 12. The Minnesota Constitution allows only the governor to call a special session, and then only the Legislature can decide when to end it.

Earlier Monday, a state expert told lawmakers they cannot quickly solve Minnesota's economic problems.

"There's not a lot that the public sector can do to stimulate employment," State Economist Tom Stinson said.

He suggested planning for long-term growth by emphasizing the quality of Minnesota products and developing new technology through research.

That didn't change the mind of House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Loren Solberg, DFL-Grand Rapids, who wants to pass a public works funding bill before February.

"He didn't say there wasn't anything you can do," Solberg said of Stinson's analysis.

There are many public works projects ready for construction, he added.

Democrats said passing a bill that authorizes public works projects in a special session before February could mean construction starting in 2008. Waiting to pass a so-called bonding bill until the end of the regular legislative session next year, as typically occurs, would push the start of construction into 2009.

Kramer said any construction requiring concrete footings will not start until spring anyway, so a bonding bill passed early in the regular legislative session will be just as effective.

Even as they claimed early approval of a bonding bill could spur job growth, key lawmakers predicted an agreement was unlikely.

"I would guess, knowing the governor, there's no possibility," said Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon.

Langseth, chairman of a committee handling public works projects, said tradesmen are eager for work and the state could get a jump on construction because many of the projects are indoors.

"Right now the contractors are hungry," Langseth said.

The proposed bonding bill Pogemiller and Kelliher brought to Pawlenty Monday focused on building preservation, infrastructure and bridges. It did not include funding for the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center expansion and other local and regional projects.