Minnesota Senate rejects $1.5M public works bill

Published 10:42 am Friday, May 6, 2016

ST. PAUL — Minnesota’s Senate narrowly rejected a Democratic plan to borrow $1.5 billion for public construction projects across the state on Thursday, providing just the latest reminder of the wide divide between Republicans and Democrats as the legislative session winds down with little settled.

The public works package would have overhauled aging water infrastructure systems, provided money for upkeep at public college and university campuses and socked away $400 million for road and bridge repairs. But it failed by just one vote, as only one Republican joined the Senate’s 39 Democrats to approve it on a 40-26 vote. So-called bonding bills require a three-fifths majority to pass.

The borrowing package is one piece of the Legislature’s remaining to-do list, along with a bill offering tax cuts, funding transportation repairs and other spending priorities. Its unexpected failure on the Senate floor adds to that pile of unsettled work as the Legislature nears the final two weeks of session.

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“It just doesn’t seem like we’re on a path where we’re going to get anything done,” Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk said. “We may end up going home this session without a bonding bill.”

Those bills often play a critical role in end-of-session negotiations by getting individual members on board with construction projects in their districts. But Republicans in the Senate objected to the size of the plan, clocking in at $1.8 billion of construction after adding in some money from other funds. A GOP-led attempt to cut the price tag in half failed.

“How can we get out of a session with a bonding bill? I think we all want that,” said Sen. David Senjem, R-Rochester. “$1.8 billion is probably not where we want to be.”

GOP leaders in the House have said they’ll put together a $600 million bonding bill, but have not yet released any details. Democrats in that chamber have vowed not to support it, arguing it doesn’t go far enough to meet the state’s infrastructure needs.

Despite its failure on the Senate floor, Bakk said Democrats likely wouldn’t trim it down and try again. Rather, he faulted Republican lawmakers for not approving the bill and said it hints at a prospect that Gov. Mark Dayton has raised — that the Legislature will accomplish nothing this session.

Senate Minority Leader David Hann scoffed at that suggestion and said it’s up to majority Democrats to come back with a smaller bill to gain GOP support.

“We need to get serious,” the Eden Prairie Republican said. “There’s a lot of room to negotiate.”