House OKs bonding bill: Shooting Star Trail could get funding

Published 10:21 am Friday, May 16, 2014

ST. PAUL — Austin residents are among those who benefit from the House bonding bill passed late Thursday.

Sleep-deprived lawmakers reached Friday for the end of a legislative session marked by Democratic drives to boost the minimum wage and target school bullying as well as bipartisan efforts to legalize medical marijuana, fix public infrastructure and deliver tax cuts using surplus money.

The final push meant long hours and middle-of-the-night votes, including House approval of more than $1 billion in construction projects paid for with state bonds and cash. The Austin Port Authority will now be able to use state bonding money secured in 2012 for parking lot construction on the upcoming Hormel Institute expansion and legislators secured funding for several state trails, which includes the Shooting Star Trail.

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Despite the staggering size, passage came after relatively short debates thanks to deals brokered at the highest levels.

The bonding bill, as the $846 million borrowing plan was known, easily surpassed the supermajority requirement when 19 Republicans voted with all Democrats to pass it.

“Bonding bills by their nature have many good things in them and some things we find objectionable,” said Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City. With its commitment to the Capitol restoration and other core elements, he said the good “far outweighs” the bad.

House Capital Investment Committee Chairwoman Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, said the plan erases a backlog of stalled projects and was written to maximize matching dollars.

“The bill is filled with lines that leverage other money — federal money, local money, private money,” she said of the borrowing bill. A separate $200 million cash finance plan also prevailed, sending the pair over to the Senate for final action later Friday.

From hiking trails to prison repairs to laboratories on college campuses, the plans are chock full of building projects in every corner of the state.

The largest single item is $126 million to complete the Capitol renovation. The smallest is $78,000 for work on a historic bridge in Hanover.

The most intense negotiations surrounded $22 million devoted to the Lewis and Clark regional water pipeline project in southwestern Minnesota. With federal money bottled up, state lawmakers were delivering money for Minnesota’s end of a project that also affects Iowa and South Dakota. It is meant to draw water to 300,000 people in the region, feeding drinking water supplies and fostering business growth.

Republican Rep. Joe Schomacker of Luverne told colleagues the pipeline is vital to his district.

“We are dry,” he said, “but we have a plan.”

A tax bill awaiting action would allow counties and cities in the region to raise local taxes toward a local share and unlock about $2.2 million more annually from the state. All told, the pipeline could take more than $60 million to put in.

The tax legislation also promised breaks for business and extra property tax refunds for homeowners, renters and farmers. Both chambers needed to vote to send it to Gov. Mark Dayton.

The same goes for a compromise bill granting people with certain conditions access to marijuana as medicine, as long as it wasn’t in leaf form or smoked.

The last bill from the chute will be a $283 million spending proposal that gives raises to long-term care attendants, provides pothole repair funds, distributes grants for high-speed broadband development and boosts payments to schools and scholarships for early childhood education.

A late list of conditions from Dayton delayed a settlement until almost 2 a.m. The Democratic governor said he had six requirements for signing off, though not all of them were granted. The most notable exception was the so-called Toxic Free Kids proposal demanding that products marketed to children be flagged when they contain certain chemicals.