Bonding bills passed in both chambers; conference committee needed

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After a long and winding road, a capital investment bill finally made it to the House floor. The DFL put up a majority of the 99-32 votes to move it to the Senate, which passed it 45-22. A conference committee is expected to work out the differences.

Sponsored by Rep. Larry Howes (R-Walker) and Sen. Julie Rosen (R-Fairmont), a delete-all amendment to HF1752*/ SF1463 upped the bonding total approximately $62 million from the bill’s original total of $433.9 million. Howes called it a compromise and part of the end-of-session negotiations. (See the spreadsheet.)

Getting a bonding bill to the floor this session has been controversial. DFLers balked at initial proposals. They argued that more project funding would be necessary to put the construction trades back to work; however, Republicans noted there was nearly $500 million in bonding enacted last year, and they expressed concern about increasing the state’s debt service.

Howes has shepherded the bill the session in and out of committees, watching it morph and change at each.

“As you know, this was a hard bill to put together, with some extremely hard choices,” Howes said.

The major language change adopted on the House floor appropriated more money for the University of Minnesota, in response to a concern raised by Gov. Mark Dayton.

The bill calls for $496.4 million in general obligation bonding to fund road and bridge projects; maintenance work at the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system; asset preservation projects at various state-owned facilities; and design work for needed repairs to the State Capitol.

Provisions include:

  • $132.12 million for MnSCU asset preservation and replacement projects;
  • $78.5 million to the Department of Employment and Economic Development, with $5 million for a grant program to promote business development;
  • $64 million to the University of Minnesota for asset preservation projects;
  • $49.4 million for Department of Transportation projects, including $33 million for local bridge replacement and rehabilitation;
  • $47.5 million for Minnesota Sex Offender Program treatment facilities improvement;
  • $46.5 million to the Department of Natural Resources, with $30 million dedicated to flood mitigation; and
  • $44 million for work related to the State Capitol restoration project.

The amended, more expensive bill was brought to the floor in a procedural move, to avoid a return to the House Ways and Means Committee.

This raised the ire of at least one Republican who said that members hadn’t been given enough time to digest the 58-page bill and spreadsheet.

“There is no urgency to do the right thing. There is no urgency to pass this,” said Rep. Mark Buesgens (R-Savage).

Republicans were quiet about the bill’s contents, while Democrats were quick to point out the projects that were not included.

Several communities had hoped to see funding for civic centers, including Rochester and Mankato. “We missed an opportunity to build strong regional centers with these cities,” said Rep. Alice Hausman (DFL-St. Paul), a past capital investment committee chair. She said these projects had the support of the business community.

“It pains me more than ever that we have underfunded or not funded so much that adds to the economic state of the state,” she said.