Bonding bill fails to get House approval

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Rep. Alice Hausman (DFL-St. Paul) used one word to describe what happened in the House chamber Friday afternoon: Tragic.

After the $800 million omnibus capital investment bill failed to garner the necessary number of votes for passage, Hausman considered it dead for the session.

“We’ve been trying for months to solidify the vote, so overnight nothing is going to change,” Hausman said. “It’s inconceivable to me how people could make this kind of judgment.”

Although the bill received 76 “yes” votes and 56 “no” votes, bonding bills must win support from at least three-fifths of House (81) and Senate (41) members to pass. That meant eight House Republicans needed to support the bill. Just three did: Rep. Chris Swedzinski (R-Ghent), Rep. Tama Theis (R-St. Cloud) and Rep. Mark Uglem (R-Champlin).

Hausman said she had promises from enough Republicans to vote for the bill; however, they did not. She refused to name those members.

“She had no Republican commitments,” countered Rep. Matt Dean (R-Dellwood).

Republicans also perceived the bill as a lack of priority by the DFL, saying the budget should be resolved before the bonding and other bills are brought up for a vote.

“We came here to pass a balanced budget that would be good for Minnesota, and that’s what we’re eager to debate here on the House floor, and that’s what we’re eager to pass,” said House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt (R-Crown). “We need to get the budget here on the floor in bill format where we can debate it and vote on it before the next three days is up.”

Sponsored by Hausman, a delete-all amendment to HF270 and another amendment to the bill calls for $887.3 million in appropriations, of which $800 million would be from general-obligation bonds. The initial House plan sought $858.38 million in appropriations ($800 million general-obligation bonds), and a plan unveiled in April by Dayton proposed spending $750 million, of which $675 million would be from general-obligation bonding.

The bill’s largest investment would be $109 million to continue restoration of the State Capitol. Another $94 million is expected to be needed in the 2014 bonding bill to complete refurbishment of the 108-year-old building.

“What I was told is if we didn’t have a bill this year, they have to just stop work, take down the scaffolding and they would have to start all over with a new group of legislators. It puts them two years out,” Hausman said. “In two years, we’ll have a whole different set of legislators who haven’t worked through what we have.”

Dean noted that design work for the Capitol preservation has previously been funded and can continue, “even if we don’t have any other bills that pass for Capitol preservation.”

Hausman said she won’t push for a bill in the session’s final days just to fund Capitol renovations.

“The Capitol is a noble project, an important project, we should do it. But why is it more important than higher education … or transportation infrastructure that keeps our economy going. If our economy keeps going, we can afford to do the Capitol, if the economy doesn’t keep moving, it doesn’t matter: we can’t do the Capitol.”

Rep. Lyndon Carlson Sr. (DFL-Crystal) said now is the time to put thousands of construction workers back to work with these projects, and that the state can get more bang for its buck with low interest rates.

“Passing this bonding bill would have made the best use of taxpayer dollars,” Hausman said.

What’s in the bill?

Among the bill’s proposed appropriations are:

  • $193.93 million between the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, including $60 million in asset preservation;
  • $60.3 million for convention center expansions in Rochester, Mankato and St. Cloud;
  • $50 million to “advance transit in the metropolitan area in accordance with the Metropolitan Council’s 2030 Transportation Policy Plan and in consultation with the Counties Transit Improvement Board;”
  • $47.5 million for a new James Ford Bell Natural History Museum and Planetarium on the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus;
  • $36.3 million to construct new facilities at the state security hospital in St. Peter to allow sex offenders to be housed separately from mentally ill and dangerous inmates;
  • $25 million for flood mitigation;
  • $20 million for wastewater infrastructure funding;
  • $20 million for local bridge replacement and rehabilitation;
  • $18.9 million for the state match for an expansion at the Minneapolis Veterans Home;
  • $18 million for a new health services and intake unit at the St. Cloud prison;
  • $15.4 million for state trails development; and
  • $3 million for design of a new Legislative Office Building to be located just north of the State Capitol. The building would house senators and Senate staff that currently do not have offices in the Capitol. Senators in the minority party and their staff currently office out of the State Office Building west of the Capitol.