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Sunday, August 17, 2008

Rod Hamilton Feels Duped

Rod Hamilton (R-22B, Mountain Lake) is one of six Republicans who voted to override the Governor’s veto of the 2008 Transportation Bill, otherwise known as the largest tax increase in state history. Hamilton had agreed with the Democrats to vote for the bill because he believed they had promised to fund the reconstruction of a portion of highway 60 in his district. Now Mn/DOT says his project was not included in the bill and Hamilton feels he was duped into voting for the bill. Read about it in the Strib.

Back on February 21, just days before the vote on the T bill, Minnesota Public Radio reported,

". . . [T]here are signs that deals are being made. A provision has been added to the bill that would expand Highway 60 in southern Minnesota. That highway is in Rep. Rod Hamilton's district, and construction companies have been lobbying him to support the bill."

That provision was not in the second engrossment of the bill on February 19, 2008, but was inserted into the third engrossment of the bill on February 20 in the form of 22 lines of text found at lines 9.21-10.7, which was adopted in the fourth and final engrossment. That text is as follows:

9.21 (e) Of the total appropriation under this
9.22 subdivision provided to the Department of
9.23 Transportation's district 7, the commissioner
9.24 shall first expend funds as necessary to
9.25 accelerate all projects that (1) are on a trunk
9.26 highway classified as a medium priority
9.27 interregional corridor, (2) are included in the
9.28 district's long-range transportation plan, but
9.29 are not included in the state transportation
9.30 improvement program or the ten-year
9.31 highway work plan, and (3) expand capacity
9.32 from a two-lane highway to a freeway
9.33 or expressway, as defined in Minnesota
9.34 Statutes, section 160.02, subdivision 19. The
9.35 commissioner shall establish as the highest
10.1 priority under this paragraph any project that
10.2 currently has a final environmental impact
10.3 statement completed. The requirement
10.4 under this paragraph does not change the
10.5 department's funding allocation process
10.6 or the amount otherwise allocated to each
10.7 transportation district.

The practice in the state legislature is to avoid written earmarks, at least making a show of avoiding it. The verbage allocating tax dollars for a project does not read "twenty-three miles of four lanes of highway 60 between St. James and Windom." That specificity is avoided. Instead the convoluted language of the quoted text above is used. Aside from the fact that District 7 is specified, one would need to know the identity of the project in order to identify it in the text of the law.

So Hamilton thought the language was clear. The DFL party leadership inserted it into the bill which was approved, vetoed and overridden. Senator Jim Vickerman (DFL-Tracy) called for a public hearing, thinking it is clear (reports on the public hearing here and here).

But House Transportation Committee Chair, DFL Rep. Bernie Lieder, said, ". . . [T]here was never an intention to give the highway special status in return for Hamilton's vote." I wonder what all the arm twisting was about then (see this commentary).

And now Mn/DOT says that language does not clearly identify Hamilton’s desired project and that it would be short of funds to do the work, but promises to make a decision in the next month.

All this may be resolved in Hamilton’s favor yet, but don’t bet on it. Meanwhile, Hamilton feels hung-out-to-dry by Mn/DOT and the DFL which twisted his arm to support the bill which he was willing to do to gain his desired/needed road improvement.

Making deals is dangerous. As part of the Override Six, he lost his positions in the Republican Caucus. After the Dems had his vote to override the Governor’s veto and get what they wanted, Lieder can withhold a reward for Hamilton’s needed help. Who says politics doesn’t come before people?!

I bet "Bipartisan" DFL Kalin doesn’t support Republican Hamilton against DFL Lieder! Kalin won't go against the DFL and lose support for his I35 bridge. Furthermore, Hamilton's road cost would encroach on Kalin's bridge cost.

Read some additional commentary on this here, here, here, here and here.

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