By Danielle Killey
A bill to fund local road and bridge work, flood prevention measures, civic centers and other projects throughout the state appears stalled in the Minnesota Legislature as time runs down on the session.
“We’re getting a little nervous, obviously, because we’re quite close to the end,” House Capital Investment Chairwoman Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, said.
The House and Senate seem to be waiting for each other to move forward on a plan for a so-called bonding bill, where the state would sell bonds to fund public works projects.
Hausman said she is hesitant to put her $800 million bill to a House vote before a Senate plan is released, though said she might be forced to do so early next week because of a May 20 adjournment deadline.
Senate Capital Investment Chairman LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, said his committee still is holding hearings on possible public works funding projects.
“I know it seems like we’re getting down to the end, but we still have two weeks,” Stumpf said.
While each chamber develops its own plan, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said the state constitution requires that the bonding bill be passed first in the House, so it should take the first step.
He also said there needs to be at least some Republican support to move forward.
“We can’t pass it without Republican votes,” Bakk said, because it requires a three-fifths majority to be approved and Democrats do not have that many votes.
Rep. Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, said there may be trouble gathering that support.
It is the wrong year for a major bonding bill, Dean said. He said the Legislature traditionally focuses on the budget one year and puts forward a public works borrowing bill the second of a two-year session. This is a budget year.
“It’s hard to bring up any bonding bill in a non-bonding year, particularly before the budget’s done,” Dean said.
It is not a typical bonding year, Stumpf acknowledged, but added Democrats are trying to make up for smaller bills in the past and requests are mounting.
“There’s a huge, huge desire,” Hausman said. “We’ve always believed that this is the year to be aggressive about bonding.”
Dean said Republicans have not ruled a bonding bill out entirely. “We have not said ‘no’ to anything.”
The bill Hausman proposed has some projects with bi-partisan support, Dean said.
Hausman said she is fairly confident there are enough votes in the House to pass the bill.
State Capitol building restoration has gained Republican and Democratic support.
Bakk said at a minimum the Legislature should approve those funds.
The Senate tax bill included $33 million over the next two years for Capitol building repairs, but Stumpf and Hausman said that will not be enough to keep the project on track and said $109 million for the next two years should be part of a bonding bill instead.
“I would not want the building itself to be held hostage,” Dean said.
Stumpf said he is working with Hausman and Gov. Mark Dayton to make sure final plans line up as much as possible to avoid complicated negotiations.
“I think that’s coming together,” Stumpf said.
Dayton has proposed a $750 million borrowing bill.
Bakk said he assumes the bill will need to go to a conference committee where lawmakers from the House and Senate would iron out differences between their versions of the bill, as well as mesh their proposals with Dayton’s wishes.
Stumpf said the House and Senate took different approaches to putting together the bill. The House worked to get a plan out right away while the Senate’s process took longer, Stumpf said.
He said the Senate bonding is entangled with budget plans, and changes and delays there have “put a twist” in the bonding proposal.
Stumpf said he is not frustrated the bonding bill has not yet come forward in the Senate.
“I think we’re tying a lot of different pieces together toward the end of the session,” he said. “And that makes sense.”