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Republican legislators took aim Tuesday at a high-profile target -- Minnesota's struggling intercity passenger-rail program -- and voted to cut $25.2 million from it as part of a wide-ranging effort to reel in unspent state bonding money.

Although the move faces more legislative hurdles, a Republican-dominated House panel also cut $22 million in bonding money for the stalled Minnesota Planetarium in Minneapolis, $3.6 million for a regional public safety training center in Olmsted County, $2.1 million for a national solar rating and certification lab at the University of Minnesota and $950,000 to complete part of the Mesabi Trail near Ely.

But Republicans and DFLers tussled mostly over passenger rail, focusing on projects that include the proposed Duluth-to-Twin Cities line, the already-started renovation of the Union Depot in downtown St. Paul and a proposed high-speed rail line between Chicago and the Twin Cities.

Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover, pointed to two lines that are already operating: the Hiawatha light-rail line and the Northstar Commuter line.

"These trains are just not delivering as promised," she said. "I don't think we should be [funding] a losing investment.

"The [promised] development that was supposed to go up around these trains is just not happening," she added.

State rail officials said the move to pull back funds could cripple several projects, including the high-speed line from Chicago. Dave Christianson, a Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) official, said the project is relying on part of the bonding money to help match $600,000 in federal funds for planning. "We would have to back off on that because we couldn't finish paying the consultants," he said.

Christianson said the bonding money, which was approved in 2009, had also led state officials to sign a $10 million agreement to match incoming federal money to move ahead on the Union Depot renovation, which would be a terminal for bus lines, Amtrak and the new Central Corridor light-rail line connecting Minneapolis and St. Paul. Bernie Arsenau, a deputy state transportation commissioner, said MnDOT expected to have at least half of the $25.2 million committed "within a few months."

Citing the deficit

Republicans, however, said rail advocates were missing the point: Legislators have to find ways to solve the state's $5 billion budget deficit.

"We need to remind ourselves why we're here," said Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa. "The people cannot afford the overextension of promises that have been brought forward in the past.

"Maybe in the future we'll have the opportunity to cancel even more projects -- that's the direction we need to go," he added.

Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, said the proposed moves are shortsighted and would force state officials to bypass millions of dollars in federal rail funding that are now "on the table." She added that "we have a unique opportunity" to help expand the state's passenger-rail system "so that we're not just bound to planes and cars," and reminded Republicans that many local chamber of commerce groups had backed the projects.

But in a stark reminder that Republicans now control the Legislature, Hausman, the former chair of the House Capital Investment Committee, was largely ignored as the panel voted 12-9 along party lines to strip away the money.

The long-delayed planetarium, a project that was once to be built at the new downtown Minneapolis library, also hit a bump. Although planetarium officials said they are now close to reviving the project with the University of Minnesota, the panel voted to take away $22 million in bonding money that the proposal received in 2005.

"We'll just be starting from scratch," said Angus Vaughan, the project's president, after the hearing. He said the Legislature's timing, coming as the university was now working with the project, was particularly troubling. "It would always be a lot better coming to the party with $22 million in hand," he said.

Mike Kaszuba • 651-222-1673