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Ridgewater falls victim to governor's veto pen

The exterior of Ridgewater College in Willmar is pictured in this undated photo. The governor has vetoed a $14.3 million project at the college. Tribune photo by Gary Miller

WILLMAR -- Three weeks ago, Sen. Joe Gimse sent a letter to Gov. Tim Pawlenty and met personally with his staff to make a plea for keeping a $14.3 million construction project at Ridgewater College in the bonding bill. It didn't work.

"It's disappointing, certainly, that Ridgewater didn't make the cut," said Gimse, R-Willmar after learning of Pawlenty's veto of $313 million in proposed bonding projects.

Included in Pawlenty's veto was the elimination of about $134 million from the Minnesota State Colleges and University System, including Ridgewater, which had plans to expand facilities for its overcrowded ag program.

"We weren't alone, if there's any solace in that discussion, which I don't know there is," said Gimse. "Higher education really did take the brunt of the cut to the bonding bill."

Rep. Al Juhnke, DFL-Willmar, said there was "no rhyme or reason" to Pawlenty's line-item cuts. "These vetoes are just bizarre."

Particularly troubling about Ridgewater being knocked off the list is that two years ago legislators agreed to split the college's projects into two phases, said Juhnke.

The funding for the first phase was included in the 2008 bonding bill with the "good faith" understanding that money for the second phase would be included this year, said Juhnke.

He said Pawlenty "didn't ask anyone about this or he would've understood" and approved funding for Ridgewater's "shovel-ready" project.

Since Ridgewater's project was for agriculture, Gimse said he hoped it would survive Pawlenty's veto. "It is a shame," he said. "We are definitely disappointed."

The governor also vetoed the entire $21.4 million request for land acquisition and development of recreation trails in the state. That included a $2 million request for a recreational trail from New London to Sibley State Park.

Juhnke said the veto of so many projects means the loss of about 7,000 construction jobs throughout the state.

Gimse said Pawlenty "left the door open a crack" for an additional bonding bill this year.

If that happens, Juhnke said funding would likely come too late for construction this year, especially for Ridgewater.

The more likely scenario, said Juhnke, is that a supplemental bonding bill will be taken up next year "when we have a new governor."