By Don Davis
The Minnesota Legislature ended a historic 2013 session seconds before midnight Monday after voting to renovate the state Capitol building, help communities fight floods, give veterans a new facility and provide disaster assistance.
It was an end to a session that approved gay marriage, increased taxes $2 billion and boosted spending for education and other priorities of Democrats who control the House, Senate and governor’s office.
“We had a tough session,” Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said, but there were many bills that passed with bipartisan support.
“We can have strong disagreements and still keep the conversation civil,” Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said.
“Tomorrow everybody’s going to try to put their political spin on it,” Bakk added. “But I’m very proud.”
House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said that while Republicans accuse Democrats of overreaching this year, his party did what it could to catch up after 10 years of budget cuts.
House Majority Leader Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, said Democrats and Republicans worked together to end the session. Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said Republicans brought the two parties together to wrap things up.
After working leisurely much of Monday, the pace kicked into high gear after 9 p.m.
The key to the session-ending deal is a $177 million public works bill, funded by the state selling bonds. Once House and Senate leaders from both parties agreed to the bonding bill, a day-long logjam broke, allowing other bills to pass quickly with little debate.
The House passed the public works bill 121-10 and the Senate 57-6. Last week, the House defeated an $800 million proposal with opponents saying it was too big.
The largest portion of the bonding bill is fixing the state Capitol, a $132 million expenditure. More money will be needed in future years to complete the project.
“Our Capitol is the symbol of Minnesota, let it stand solid and strong to serve generations of Minnesotans long into the future…” Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, said. “This building has no lobbyist, it has us, and we must not let it down.”
The 108-year-old building’s walls are crumbling and state officials say mechanical systems need to be replaced.
Also in the bill is $20 million for flood prevention projects, $19 million for a Minneapolis Veterans’ Home building and $8 million for various sewage projects. Some previously approved bonds no longer needed are canceled.
Once the bonding bill passed, the door opened for spending $1.75 million to help southwestern Minnesota recover from an April ice storm.
Federal funds will pay three-fourths of the public property damage repair.
The bill overwhelmingly passed the House and Senate.
Sen. Bill Weber, R-Luverne, told senators there is $6 million in public property damage, but more than $20 million in damage overall.
The bonding bill also looks to prevent future disasters. It spends $20 million for flood prevention work in Ada, Afton, Alvarado, Argyle, Austin, Borup, Breckenridge, Browntown, Climax, Crookston, Delano, Granite Falls, Inver Grove Heights, Maynard, Melrose, Minneota, Minnesota River area, Montevideo, Moorhead, Newport Nielsville, Oakport Township, Oslo, Roseau, Rushford, St. Vincent and Shelley. The bill says Moorhead should get priority for funds needs.
While the Capitol is the headline project in the bonding bill, a $22.7 million parking ramp nearby also is funded.
As time ran out on the session, a 10-hour debate, spread over the last three days, about allowing some child care providers and personal care attendants to join unions ended with conflict.
Thissen announced that the bill won on a 68-66 vote, prompting loud applause and cheers from union supporters in the House gallery. Such demonstrations violate House rules.
Thissen began to gavel down the demonstration, sternly yelling: “Stop, stop.”
Several Republicans began to protest the demonstration and Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, jumped up and shouted into his microphone: “Just let them applaud, they own the place.”
Republicans often said during the unionization debate that Democrats were pushing the bill to reward their union supporters.
In its final days, the Legislature passed bills to:
– Raise taxes $2 billion.
– Fund the state $38 billion, two-year budget.
– Allow same-sex couples to marry.
– Fund arts and outdoors programs from a sales tax increase voters approved in 2008.
– Ask Minnesotans to vote to constitutionally establish a council to set legislators’ pay because, as Sen. Kent Eken, DFL-Twin Valley, said, it is a conflict of interest for lawmakers to raise their own pay.
New income taxes will be placed on the top 2 percent of Minnesota earners, cigarette taxes increased and sales taxes charged on some business purchases.
Lawmakers wrapped up most of Democrats’ priorities as they neared their deadline. But they also left undone other priorities such as a school anti-bullying bill, a minimum wage increase and gun control.
Reporter Danielle Killey contributed to this story.