Lawmakers Move On Budget, House Shows Bonding Bill

Minnesota legislative negotiators powered through much of their proposed $46 billion, two-year budget Monday, May 1, afternoon and night as they aimed for negotiations with Gov. Mark Dayton they hoped would result in a framework of a final budget deal later this week.

It was a busy day in the Capitol, with House Republicans releasing their $600 million public works finance bill and immigrants rallying under the dome.

Republicans who control the House and Senate pushed hard to get conference committee negotiations to finish their initial work by midnight, with the goal of meeting the next few days with Democrat Dayton to decide how much to spend in each of 10 budget areas. The GOP goal was to get that deal framework on Thursday, which would allow legislative negotiators to work with the Dayton administration on final budget details before the May 22 constitutional adjournment date.

Despite their efforts, several major bills were not finished Monday, with conference committees planned for today.

Details of the budget bills generally were worked out in recent days behind closed doors, with committee chairmen making most decisions, sometimes in conjunction with Republican leaders.

An example of Monday’s work was House Transportation Chairman Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, who said his bill was completed at about 2 p.m.

Torkelson said the GOP bill would contain no new taxes, unlike a dime-a-gallon gasoline tax increase Dayton wants. Instead, Republicans stick to their desire to divert some sales tax revenue collected on car-related items to road and bridge needs.

Rep. Dean Urdahl

Torkelson said the GOP bill includes added funding for bus transit in the Twin Cities, while earlier versions in the House and Senate did little for buses.

While Monday was a busy day, Rep. Chris Swedzinski, R-Ghent, said the issues have been discussed throughout the legislative session, so it was not as hurried as it would appear.

“This has really been a process,” he said.

Sen. John Mary, D-Roseville, looked at the process with questions.

“It is kind of like these are public decisions that we are going to make it in private when no one is looking,” Marty said about committee chairman making most decisions.

Swedzinski said that Republicans want Dayton to get involved in budget talks, more than hosting key legislators for meals. “We need more than breakfast; we need results from the governor.”

The only major spending bill not wrapped up Monday was public works funding, with projects such as local roads, college building repairs and water projects.

Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, called his bill “a starting point.” It would spend $600 million, raised by the state selling bonds.

The Senate and Dayton want more than the House bill contains. The House proposal includes more than $200 million for local roads and bridges.

“I think this is the biggest bonding bill for local roads and bridges … and water than has ever been done,” Urdahl said.

The bonding chairman said he does not expect the bill to remain as it was introduced Monday.

“People should understand this is part of the process,” Urdahl said. “We have made our initial effort to put our bonding bill out.”

Also Monday, about 300 people rallied on behalf of immigrants.

They heard songs and speeches urging peace, saying immigrants “are human beings” and asking legislators to allow those without documentation to obtain driver’s licenses.

The Capitol rally was one of several around the Twin Cities Monday to note the national Day Without Immigrants and International Workers’ Day.

The House on Monday rejected suspending its rules to appropriate $500,000 to help contain a measles outbreak that has sickened 134 Minnesota children, mostly Somali-Americans in Minneapolis.

Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minneapolis, was not happy that Republicans turned down her request, noting that the GOP passed anti-abortion bills. “What you are telling me today and what you are telling Minnesotans is that you only care about particular children.”

Rep. Susan Allen, D-Minneapolis, recalled that a couple of years ago legislators took quick action to fight a bird flu outbreak that was killing chickens and turkeys. “It doesn’t play out well, children vs. chickens.”

Omar, the country’s first Somali-American legislator, said: “We need to be taking all necessary steps to encourage parents of all backgrounds in every Minnesota community to get their children vaccinated and prevent the spread of the measles virus to yourself or others. I want you and your children, and everyone in the community to be safe.”

The Senate unanimously passed legislation to establish a legislative commission to investigate what should be done to improve the state’s computer security.

House bonding bill

Some key elements of a Minnesota House public works bill that would borrow $600 million by the state selling bonds:

  • $30 million for University of Minnesota building repairs.
  • $36 million for Minnesota State campuses’ building repairs, and new buildings on campuses in Fergus Falls, Wadena, East Grand Forks and North Mankato.
  • $40 million for natural resources programs, including asset preservation, flood fighting and dam repairs.
  • $22 million for pollution control, split between St. Louis River cleanup and a Polk County solid waste system.
  • $239 million for local bridge and road projects, new rail crossing in Moorhead and Red Wing and local transportation projects.
  • $20 million to fix state prisons.
  • $42 million for economic development projects.
  • $115 million for clean water projects.