Legislators approved a jobs and energy bill that funds workforce housing, job training and broadband expansion.
The bill passed in a Friday special legislative session provides a $4 million loan to Duluth-based Cirrus Aircraft and allows Iron Range taconite workers and poultry workers with flocks affected by the avian flu to get extended unemployment benefits.
The legislation also provides more government assistance for Minnesotans who use propane for heat.
The House approved the bill 78-47, with the Senate voting 50-14.
The bill lowered spending from the current two-year budget, Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, said, while making “important energy reforms that will continue pushing us toward our goal of cleaner and cheaper energy for Minnesotans.”
“We dispelled this ridiculous notion that higher energy prices create jobs,” he added.
But Rep. Tim Mahoney, D-St. Paul, said the bill will mean fewer jobs across the state.
He said that money Garofalo saved comes from greater Minnesota and Twin Cities economic development programs.
Expanding broadband in rural Minnesota will get $11 million, down from $20 million approved a year ago, $100 million that broadband supporters wanted and $30 million Gov. Mark Dayton suggested. House Republicans began the year with no broadband money in their plan.
“There is no question we have missed an incredible opportunity here,” Rep. Erik Simonson, D-Duluth, said about broadband.
An education funding bill that provides more money to early-childhood programs, but without the governor’s wish for universal school for 4 year olds, passed easily.
The House voted for the legislation 115-10, with senators favoring it 53-12.
The legislation spends $17 billion of state tax money, out of a $42 billion, two-year budget.
The bill adds $550 million to what schools had expected to receive, boosting the per-pupil funding $236 per student; that is a 2 percent a year increase, costing $63 million.
It also adds money for pre-school scholarships that allows parents to spend the funds at variety of schools, not requiring youngsters to attend public facilities. That is a $17.5 million addition.
And the bill puts $12.7 million more into American Indian education and increases Head Start spending $10 million.
The bill is $125 million richer, but otherwise little changed from the one that lawmakers passed before their regular session ended on May 18.
“This bill is the third largest state investment in state history, and it prioritized both funding schools at a level that met their budget requirements and visionary investments in early childhood education,” Senate Education Chairman Charles Wiger, D-Maplewood, said.
Legacy vote easy
Lawmakers showed strong support for legislation, known as the legacy bill, to fund outdoors and arts programs.
The bill, which gets money from a 2008 sales tax increase approved by voters, would give $228.3 million to clean water programs, $97.8 million to outdoors, $89.4 million for parks and trails and $124.8 million for the arts.
Senators passed the legacy bill 54-10, with the House voting 116-6.
Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, said one notable appropriation in the arts and cultural heritage portion of the bill is $3.3 million for Capitol art preservation as the building undergoes a restoration.
With the state Capitol building closed for renovation, the Senate had no place to meet, forcing senators to set up shop in a House committee room.
“The majority caucus find themselves homeless,” Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, declared at one point Friday.
Friday’s meeting was historic because it was the first time the House and Senate have met outside of the Capitol building in more than a century.
After weeks of preparations, two House committee rooms in the State Office Building became makeshift legislative chambers as the Capitol building is closed to everyone but construction workers as part of a multi-year $300 million renovation.
“We are making a bit of history today,” House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, told his colleagues. “I understand that this is the first time in 110 years a session of the House has been held outside of our Capitol building.”
Lawmakers early Saturday approved spending far less than the governor wants on public works projects around the state in a year that House Republicans say they did not need such legislation.
The House voted in favor of the bill 96-25 for the bill, with senators voting 48-18.
“In bonding, of course, size matters,” Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, said of the bill he authored.
Too little public works money would garner too few votes, while too much would scare away those who want to contain spending.
“This bill for this year is about the right size,” Torkelson said.
Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton called for a bill topping $800 million.
The public works bill would spend $373 million, $180 million of which would be financed by bonds to be repaid from general tax revenues. Other bonds would be paid by other funds, such as from gasoline tax.
One of major projects provides $171 million to reroute U.S. 53 in northeastern Minnesota as a taconite mine takes over the old highway. Those funds, as well as money for local roads and bridges, come from bonds to be financed by transportation revenues.
Also in the legislation is $38.5 million for flood-related expenditures for 2014 flood recovery, Otter Tail County lake flooding, Red River Valley flood-prevention efforts and similar projects. About $33 million would be provided to finish renovation of the state Capitol building.
Rep. Dave Baker, R-Willmar, said the $26.5 million for Willmar and St. Paul poultry testing facilities, both University of Minnesota projects, is important in light of avian flu outbreaks that hit his area especially hard.
Also in the bill is $29 million for the next phase of southwest Minnesota’s Lewis and Clark rural water system, $1.2 million for Northeast Regional Corrections Center renovations, $10 million for sewage treatment facilities and $31.9 million for Minnesota State Colleges and Universities projects
Railroad crossings also were funded, although not at the amount Democrats wanted: $3.8 million for a Willmar railroad crossing, $4.7 million for one in Plymouth and $460,000 for a third at Rainy River.
GOP dumps on Dayton
Republican House members had special session information packets featuring a cover photo of water being dumped on Dayton’s head at last year’s State Fair, part of a charity fundraiser.
Democrats were not happy.
“It is appalling that the Republicans think it is OK to disrespect a sitting governor in the manner they did using taxpayer dollars,” Chairman Ken Martin of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party said.