Construction wish list in focus in special session talks

Published 10:06 am Wednesday, June 15, 2016

ST. PAUL — The Legislature’s failed wish list of $1 billion in public construction took center stage Tuesday, as lawmakers assessed the hope of finding a compromise on the special-session borrowing package that would satisfy Gov. Mark Dayton.

The so-called bonding bill is one of several pieces of unfinished business from the session that ended late last month that has top lawmakers talking about an overtime session. Dayton added to the pile by declining to sign a $260 million package of tax cuts and credits, citing a wording error that could have cost the state a hefty sum.

The tax fix is ready to go, but Dayton says he won’t call the Legislature back to St. Paul without a deal on a public construction package that would incorporate some of his priorities, such as projects on public university campuses. The final decision will come down to Dayton and legislative leaders, who are expected to meet Wednesday for a special session status check.

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Meanwhile, lawmakers from the Republican-controlled House and Democrat-led Senate searched for a path Tuesday to resurrect the roughly $1 billion public works package that puts a high premium on water quality improvement measures, road and bridge repairs and other basic infrastructure. It failed in the legislative session’s final minutes amid a party-lines dispute over funding a light-rail train to southwestern Minneapolis suburb.

Republicans dislike the project, while Democrats say it’s essential. That disagreement remains, and consensus on the final size of the bill is still lacking.

Representatives from state agencies and cities and towns across the state lobbied lawmakers for extra funding for their own projects, while Dayton has issued his own list of suggested additions, including a new medical and health science building at the University of Minnesota and fixes at the state’s security hospital.

The joint committee didn’t make headway on those areas, but instead traded accusations about who was to blame for the bonding bill’s failure.

“We shouldn’t be here today,” said Sen. Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis. “We should have passed a bill that night.”