The biggest issue the Legislature traditionally addresses in an even-numbered year could be completed within the session’s first three weeks.
At a meeting of the House Capital Investment Finance Division, Rep. Alice Hausman (DFL-St. Paul) said an aggressive timeline has been agreed upon to pass a capital investment bill. (Watch the meeting.)
“There is no secret we want to do this early,” said Hausman, the division chairwoman. “If the money is out the door early we can take advantage of the entire construction season.”
The tentative schedule calls for chairs of the House finance divisions to have their division bonding recommendations to the House Capital Investment Finance Division by Jan. 29, with the bill to be introduced Feb. 4, the first day of session. Amendments would need to be to the division Feb. 8, with the bill’s approval occurring one day later. After stops in the House Finance and Ways and Means committees, it is hoped that the bill would ready for action on the House floor by Feb. 15.
Hausman has been working with Sen. Keith Langseth (DFL-Glyndon), chairman of the Senate Capital Investment Committee, to have most of the bill agreed to by floor passage. She is optimistic that an expected conference committee to merge the bills would take less than a week.
House and Senate bills are expected to come in at around $1 billion, far more than the nearly $685 million in general obligation bonding proffered Jan. 15 by Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Hausman admitted there is concern that the governor could follow through on his threat to veto an entire bill, instead of just line-item vetoing to get to his acceptable total.
Pawlenty called his plan “fiscally responsible,” but division members and testifiers spoke about the importance of having a larger bill now when interest rates are lower and unemployed people would be put to work right away on many shovel-ready projects. Hausman said contractors have said that project bids have been coming in up to one-third lower than anticipated.
“This year our taxpayer dollar will go much further than if those projects were put off for a couple of years and the economy rebounds, and, perhaps, inflation returns,” she said.
Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Tom Hanson reviewed the governor’s proposals with the division, and took a number of questions on why some projects were funded and others were not.
“These are worthwhile projects, but there is only so much money to go around,” he said.
– Mike Cook