Bonding bill moves forward: House to vote ThursdayPublished 10:36am Thursday, May 15, 2014
By Bill Salisbury
ST. PAUL — Minnesota House and Senate Democrats are gambling they can push a $1 billion public works plan through the Legislature on Thursday, even though they do not yet have the Republican votes needed to pass it.
Majority Democratic-Farmer-Labor leaders announced a revised package Wednesday that includes:
— $126 million to complete the restoration of the state Capitol.
— $240 million for college labs, classrooms and building repairs.
— More than $100 million for roads, bridges and other infrastructure.
— More than $100 million for the largest-ever state investment in housing.
The plan calls for borrowing $846 million through bond sales and tapping the state’s $1.2 billion budget surplus for an additional $200 million.
A three-fifths super majority — or 81 votes — is needed to pass a bonding bill in the House, so if all DFLers voted for it, at least eight Republicans would have to do the same.
DFL and GOP leaders have been trying to craft a deal for several days, and both sides met again late Wednesday.
“We’re not there yet,” said Rep. Matt Dean of Dellwood, the lead Republican on the House Capital Investment Committee.
Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, who chairs the committee, said lawmakers were close to resolving the remaining issues.
“I’m relatively certain the bill will pass,” she said.
In the Senate, DFLers need just two Republican votes to pass a bonding bill. Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, who chairs the Capital Investment Committee, said he’s confident they will get them.
Gov. Mark Dayton won a major concession when senators scrapped a provision that would have repealed a state building code requirement that all new larger homes have fire sprinkers. Arguing that sprinklers save lives and protect firefighters, he had threatened to veto the entire bill over the repeal.
Meanwhile, the most contentious remaining issue is the Lewis and Clark water project for southwestern Minnesota. The bill would provide $22 million for the next planned phase of a pipeline to the Luverne and Worthington areas, but Hausman said Republicans want to add more than $40 million to complete the project.
Republicans also want more money for preserving state assets and new infrastructure, such as “water pipes, roads, electrical wires — ugly stuff,” Dean said. They would cut funding for less essential projects.
Hausman and Stumpf said they are most proud of being able to provide a record $106 million for publicly subsidized housing. The proposal would fund shelters for the homeless and address severe shortages in many outstate cities with growing companies.
Hausman said she had to accept “two big heartbreaks” to whittle the bill down to an acceptable size: the elimination of funding for improvements to the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary east of downtown St. Paul and for a science building at St. Paul College.
She said she also was disappointed that negotiators eliminated funding for Como Park Zoo exhibits, although they left in $5.4 million for roads and parking at the park.
But other St. Paul projects fared well. The bill funds a new science center at Metropolitan State University, a Minnesota Children’s Museum expansion and renovation of Twin Cities Public Television’s building, as well as part of the money the city requested for restoring the Palace Theatre and completing the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts’ new concert hall.
While the bill doesn’t provide the $51.5 million Hausman requested for a new James Ford Bell Museum of Natural History on the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus, she said U officials have agreed to fund that project if the state helps pay off its debt.
—Distributed by MCT Information Services