By Don Davis
Gov. Mark Dayton dropped a legislative bombshell Monday when he announced that he is willing to give up $846 million in public works projects around Minnesota if legislators insist on overturning a state requirement for fire sprinklers in larger new homes.
“I will veto the bonding bill if it has that provision in it,” Dayton said. “I will not let them ram it down my throat.”
The rare veto threat came over a provision in a Senate public works bill that would forbid state officials from requiring fire sprinkler systems in homes larger than 4,500 square feet. The current building code requires sprinklers for the larger homes.
Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, D-Plummer, told members of his bonding committee last week that requiring sprinklers would drive up housing costs, and many well systems in rural areas could not provide enough water.
Dayton, a Democrat, said he opposes the sprinkler prohibition and opposes putting it in a public works bill, funded by the state selling bonds.
The governor’s comment came out of left field for legislators.
“I’m absolutely stunned,” Sen. Carla Nelson, R- Rochester, said. Her community has a $35 million civic center project in the bonding bill.
Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, appeared happy with the comment. “That would signal his demise as a candidate for governor.”
Dayton is running for his second term this year, and politicians usually want a bonding bill on their record in a campaign.
The comment also took Democrats off guard.
“I am going to have a conversation with the governor about it,” Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, said.
Bakk and House Speaker Paul Thissen, D-Minneapolis, knew Dayton opposed the sprinkler prohibition, but did not know he would veto the entire bill over it.
“Putting policy like that in a bonding bill is not done very often, if at all,” Thissen said.
Bakk said that as of Monday afternoon he was not willing to take out the sprinkler provision.
The bonding bill is supposed to be the main work of even-year legislative sessions. With the constitutional deadline for taking votes this year coming up on Sunday, neither house has considered bonding.
Key legislators have been meeting to work out a bill House and Senate Republicans and Democrats can support. That has not happened and at mid-afternoon no negotiations had been scheduled Monday.
“My calendar is open,” said Rep. Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, the lead Republican on the House bonding committee.
Thissen and Bakk said they probably would need to get involved and push negotiators to draw up a final bill.
“We will have to get engaged a little more to kind of push it over the line,” Thissen said.
Dean said there are some major differences between what the House and Senate bonding committees propose. The biggest one, he said, is a southwest Minnesota water project.
“Lewis and Clark is a big deal,” Dean said. “We think that should be the first project in and not the last project in.”
The project should receive the nearly $70 million it needs to move water to residents in the Luverne and Worthington areas, Dean said. Dean, like other Republicans, said that museums, theaters and other arts projects should get less money so Lewis and Clark can be fully funded.
The overall bonding bill would fund projects such as state-run college construction and repairs, developing Vermillion State Park, paving some state trails, building or expanding civic centers, funding flood prevention projects and other items in most of the state.