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Political Notebook

In the next few days, Minnesotans will see federal economic stimulus funds in the form of orange barrels.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation has scheduled the start of many federally funded highway projects in the next week.

"MnDOT identified more than 60 projects and requested bids on enough to meet the federal requirements in about half the time required," Transportation Commissioner Tom Sorel said. "Minnesota is one of the first states to reach that obligation threshold, which makes us eligible for potentially more funding."

About half of the $502 million in federal stimulus funding has been obligated, Sorel said.

The first federally funded project already started. Crews are applying anti-skid treatments in U.S. 61 tunnels near Two Harbors.

Other projects due to start soon include a U.S. 10 overlay project between Staples and Wadena and a Minnesota 7 overlay between Montevideo and Clara City.

The federal stimulus projects are in addition to regular summer construction work.

"This is one of the largest construction years in the state's history," Sorel said. "All of us who are traveling on state roadways need to approach work zones with caution and be patient."

Wrapping up?

Minnesota legislators hope they are headed toward a smooth end to their 2009 session.

But don't bet the farm on it.

House-Senate conference committees - those panels that write compromise legislation - sent several budget bills for full House and Senate votes on Monday. But there were signs of problems with Gov. Tim Pawlenty's budget proposals and Pawlenty himself.

Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, was especially harsh, saying Pawlenty is just plain wrong in saying senators voted to give the State Patrol less money than he wanted. Murphy, the Senate transportation committee chairman, launched his conference committee with the attack Friday morning.

While conference committees dealing with relatively small amounts of money had a Saturday deadline to wrap up, the big-buck committees have until Thursday.

The next major deadline is to send all money bills to Pawlenty by May 12, with lawmakers facing a May 18 constitutional deadline to adjourn.

However, many lawmakers and legislative staff members expect legislators and Pawlenty to fail to pass their $33 billion, two-year budget by the deadline, prompting the need for a special summer session.

Biodiesel upped

More soybean oil is being burned in Minnesota today.

A new law kicked in on Friday requiring most diesel fuel sold in the state to include a 5 percent biodiesel blend, the most in the country. Most Minnesota biodiesel is made from soybean oil.

Agriculture Commissioner Gene Hugoson said he expects no problems because the state has required a 2 percent biodiesel blend for four years.

"We know from experience that the fuel helps our air quality, our farm economy, and our effort to achieve greater energy independence," the commissioner said.

However, there is opposition from some quarters, amid claims of problems in cold months.

State Capitol reporter Scott Wente contributed to this report. Don Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Park Rapids Enterprise. He can be reached at