Showdown time: Legislators invite Governor to show up and explain where the money went

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Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty has a tough choice to make on Monday. Legislators have sent him a letter indicating he can either show up to tell a legislative committee how the money he said he had for the 35W bridge disappeared just as suddenly as the bridge did, or he faces delaying other transportation projects.

The “Transportation Contingent Appropriations Group” is the legislative commission that must approve Governor Pawlenty’s request to use money from the state’s reserves to cover costs for the 35W bridge rebuilding. Earlier this month, Governor Pawlenty convinced legislative leaders that a special session on transportation was not needed because the Federal Government was paying for the 35W bridge reconstruction and the state had plenty of funds to cover its obligations.

Since then, President George Bush has threatened to veto the legislation that contains the funding for the 35W bridge. Also, the Minnesota Department of Transportation has said it needs to use the state’s reserve funds to pay for the 35W bridge or it will need to delay other construction projects.

Before the special session Lt. Governor Carol Molnau, who is also the head of the Department of Transportation testified that the funds were there.

Senator Steve Murphy: Lt. Governor, I believe the question is: are there going to be other projects delayed because of this delay in payments from the Federal government?

Molnau: I’m hoping that there will not be. I don’t believe so. I think we do have some resources that we can, can move to if we have a project we’re going to let, we can bond rather than pay out in full right now, if we have to do that, and then reimburse the bonds using those Federal dollars. So, I think we can pretty much take care of what we need to take care of on this project, if that’s what you’re asking for, with not, hopefully not a lot of negative impact to other projects or delays.

Murphy: The bonding authority that you’re talking about, where is that from?

Molnau: I’m assuming… now I think we can bond for something, that we do have some authority to do some additional bonding. So I think we can do that…ah… on some of it. Knowing that it would be short term, or we can do short-term borrowing from other accounts, and we can do that.

Murphy: the (undecipherable) funds?

Molnau – We could use some of those, yes but we also have opportunities, at least from what we’ve heard …as we’ve talked to the department of finance of being able to… and we’ve done this before knowing there are dollars coming in behind it to do some short term borrowing.

The commission has sent the Governor a letter asking him to appear before it on Monday to explain why the financial information he and the Lt. Governor gave lawmakers last month turned out to be wrong.