$1 Billion Bonding Bill Ready

Minnesota likely will borrow nearly $1 billion to fix state buildings, build water treatment facilities, make railroad crossings safer and provide money for local roads and bridges.

The public works funding bill, with money borrowed by the state selling bonds, failed in the final minutes of last year’s legislative session, but Democrats and Republicans say they expect it to pass before the end of a special session that began early Tuesday, May 23.

“I like to end up with a good bill, and I think this is it,” bonding Chairman Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, said Wednesday after the projects to be funded were announced.

Urdahl said his bill will be debated in the House, and sent to the Senate, only after lawmakers finish passing a $46 billion, two-year budget. Bonding will be their last action of the special session.

The legislation spends more than usual in an odd-numbered year, where the emphasis is on the budget. But it is near $1 billion because “we were making up for stuff in last year’s bill,” which failed in the session’s final minutes, said Urdahl.

The bill is smaller than Gov. Mark Dayton and the Senate wanted, but larger than the $600 million level where House Republicans began.

Urdahl said he expects a “good-sized” bill again next year.

The top bonding Democrat said she expects the measure to pass on a bipartisan vote.

Rep. Alice Hausman, D-St. Paul, said some projects she would like to see funded were left out, but overall it is a good bill.

One of the omissions that puzzled Hausman was a Bemidji State University project that got no funding.for a proposed $19 million new classroom facility and renovation of other buildings. Hausman said it was ranked high on the Minnesota State wish list, but was skipped over.

“I don’t know if they didn’t make enough noise or what,” Hausman said.

Urdahl said he prefers to fund higher education projects in the order they are presented by Minnesota State and the University of Minnesota, but last year’s failed bonding bill meant some old commitments took priority.

Urdahl said the bill includes Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton’s top priorities: $67 million for a University of Minnesota health sciences education facility and $70 million to renovate the state security hospital in St. Peter.

One of the largest other projects is $42 million for an underpass beneath railroad tracks in Moorhead, with less expensive similar projects in Coon Rapids and Red Wing.

Major areas of public works spending include:

  • $120 million, University of Minnesota.
  • $70 million, Minnesota State college and university system.
  • $68 million, natural resources
  • $40 million, pollution control.
  • $257 million, local transportation.
  • $97 million, human services.
  • $40 million, Corrections Department.
  • $93 million, economic development.
  • $117 million, local governments.