Time runs short on bonding bill

Published 11:09 am Thursday, April 26, 2012

Southeast view of the proposed Hormel Institute expansion. If state legislators don't pass a bonding bill by the end of the session, which is supposed to end Monday, The Institute may have to rethink its $27-million expansion.

Hormel Institute waiting on $13.5M request

With the legislative session only days from its targeted end date, The Hormel Institute is still waiting to see what happens to the $13.5 million it requested for an expansion.

“You just don’t know in any legislative session what will happen,” Jim Hurm, executive director of the Austin Port Authority, said Wednesday. While Hurm remains optimistic the bill will pass, he said the possibility that the Legislature won’t be able to settle on a bonding bill at all concerned him.

The Port Authority requested the money as part of a proposed $27-million expansion for The Institute. Now legislators must decide whether the project will receive all, some or none of that money.

Email newsletter signup

Passing the bill, officially called the capital investment bill, is a matter of getting bills through the House and Senate, getting the language in each to match and sending them on to the governor, all before the end of the session, which is scheduled for April 30.

Like Hurm, area legislators seemed guardedly optimistic about the bill.

Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, said at this point he believed the bill would still be part of the 2012 session. The bill can pull together quickly, he added.

“What’s left to do is basically get agreement on the projects,” he said. “The administrative aspects are pretty much done.”

Senjem estimated the bill would reach the Senate floor by Saturday, “if all the stars stay lined up.”

Rep. Jeanne Poppe, DFL-Austin, said it was important the bill pass because of its many good projects. She highlighted The Hormel Institute’s expansion, which has overwhelming bipartisan support.

“We’re getting very tight on our time,” she said. “We don’t want this one to slip through the cracks this year. We really want this to happen.”

Rep. Rich Murray, R-Albert Lea, warned that projects like The Institute’s expansion are being excluded from the bonding bill.

“It’s probably going to look a lot different than people originally thought it was,” he said. “They’re gearing it more toward infrastructure needs and less toward specific projects.”

Murray said he was working to keep projects like The Institute’s in the bill, but also understood the need for more general upkeep. If infrastructure repair keeps getting put off, the costs will only continue to grow, he said.

Currently, the Legislature is shooting for Monday, April 30 as the end of its session. Senjem said that date is not a hard deadline, and the Legislature wouldn’t sacrifice good debate and policy to get out early.

“We want our work done in an orderly and steady fashion,” he said. “[April 30 is] a goal we have to keep everybody working hard and pushing forward.”

Poppe said it’s possible to draft a bill that both the House and Senate agree on initially, and such a move could save precious time in the session.

Murray said there could be a hearing on the House floor today or Friday.

There currently aren’t any contingency plans for if the bonding bill doesn’t pass, Hurm said.

“We’d need to get together with the folks at The Institute,” he said, noting that it’d be very difficult to postpone plans and return to them next year. If instead the bill passes with the House’s proposal of $9 million for the expansion, Hurm said they’d need to take a look at the plans again and come up with ideas on where to get the other $4.5 million.

Despite his concerns, Hurm said he’s still optimistic about the bill passing, and is very confident The Hormel Institute expansion will be included on the bonding bill regardless of the shape it takes.

“Not only is it going to be significant in terms of construction jobs, but also the 120 to 125 jobs it will bring,” Hurm said. The expansion would essentially double the employment The Institute already provides, he added.

For now, Hurm said those involved with The Hormel Institute expansion would have to wait and see what format the bill ends up taking.

“There’s no reason to not feel good about it,” he said.

Sen. Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin, did not return multiple calls for comment.