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Senate unveils $850 million bonding bill, House updates its plan

James Nord//May 5, 2014

Senate unveils $850 million bonding bill, House updates its plan

James Nord//May 5, 2014

Rep. Matt Dean, GOP lead on the House bonding committee, said Democrats need to focus their efforts on more worthwhile infrastructure projects.
Rep. Matt Dean, GOP lead on the House bonding committee, said Democrats need to focus their efforts on more worthwhile infrastructure projects. (Staff photo: James Nord)

The Senate released a bonding plan on Monday that includes $850 million in borrowing and $200 million in cash. The cash would mainly be used for the state Capitol renovation and transportation projects.

The Senate introduction fills out the three-way negotiations around bonding with two weeks left in the 2014 legislative session. The House and Gov. Mark Dayton had already released their plans, at $850 million and $986 million, respectively, some time ago. The House and Senate Democrats released spending, tax and bonding cash targets last week, setting up the road to a framework deal for concluding the session.

The Senate proposal differs in some particulars from the House and governor’s plans. It allocates $13 million in state aid toward the Lewis and Clark Water System project — Dayton put $20 million into the $70.6 million project — and counts on $7 million in local dollars. That project is a priority for leaders and lawmakers of both parties. An updated House proposal released on Monday cut the project out completely.

“We are spending money on Lewis and Clark, but the bonding process, it’s easy to point at one project and say don’t fund this one but fund the one I want, so it’s a delicate balance,” Senate Capital Investment Committee Chair LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, said after a hearing on Monday.

In higher education funding, the Senate falls roughly in line with Dayton and the updated House plan. The Senate package proposes to allocate $125.2 million for the University of Minnesota, while Dayton offered $118.7 million and the House would finance the flagship university at $119.5 million, plus $30 million in cash. The Senate put $130.2 million in state bonds toward the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system. That’s compared to the governor’s $114.2 million and the House’s $97.3 million in bonds and $30 million in cash for asset preservation.

The Senate proposal funds the state security hospital project at St. Peter at Dayton’s preferred level of $56 million, as well as facilities upgrades to the Minnesota Sex Offender Program at $7.4 million. The new House plan only funds the hospital project at $41 million in cash. Also included in the plans are regional civic centers in Rochester, St. Cloud and Mankato — perennial projects that have so far failed to gain traction.

The civic center funding could help DFLers in the Senate pass a bonding plan, which requires supermajority support to go through. Democrats in the upper chamber need at least two Republican votes to pass borrowing legislation. Two Rochester Republicans, Sens. Carla Nelson and Dave Senjem, could provide those votes.

Nelson heralded the “good news” that the $34.5 million Rochester convention center project was in the bill in a tweet on Monday. Senjem said later in an interview he was still weighing the proposal. “You can’t pre-commit,” he said. “This is a journey.”

The House needs eight Republican votes to pass a capital investment bill. Neither chamber needs a supermajority to pass the $200 million in cash projects attached to the bonding plans.

Passing bonding bills is typically messy work. With Monday’s Senate release, Stumpf dismissed the idea that the leaders of both parties, including the governor, would come up with a palatable solution behind closed doors and then quickly pass the measures.

“As much as we’d like to have it pre-agreed, I think there’s going to be enough differences where we’ll have to go into a very short conference committee,” Stumpf said. “We’ll see what the House presents on their new budget sheet.”

Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, who heads bonding in that chamber, is frustrated that funding for one of her priorities, $50 million for the James Ford Bell Museum of Natural History and Planetarium, wasn’t included in the Senate version.

Hausman said she’s pushing for leadership to come up with a deal that would ensure passage of a borrowing bill. Otherwise, Hausman predicts trouble getting support from House Republicans in getting the legislation through.

“I do not see a path forward, and I think there’s really a good chance we don’t have a bonding bill this year … because of the House,” she said on Monday afternoon. “Here there’s a strange minority approach where they, what they’re told is, ‘I would vote for a bill or a bigger bill when my leader releases me.’ That’s the phrase: ‘When my leader releases me.’ So nobody commits, because they’ve not been released.”

Republicans, who listed their priorities as transportation and infrastructure projects, put out general targets for bonding at a press conference on Monday that also sit at $850 million and include funding for the Capitol and the Lewis and Clark project. Those targets aren’t a caucus position.

“What you are seeing from Democrats today is a cry for help,” Rep. Matt Dean, Republican lead on the House Capital Investment committee, said in a statement. “It’s kinda like they went to Cub for a loaf of bread and got stuck in the candy aisle. We’re just here to remind them where the bread’s at.”

Dayton, speaking to reporters after an event, said he needed to review the Senate plan. In a letter to House and Senate leaders late Monday, Dayton reiterated that he doesn’t support using cash to make capital investments. He also called for a lower spending target and adding more money into the state budget reserve.

Speaking with reporters earlier in the day, he pushed back against Republican criticisms’ that certain less-than-necessary projects be removed from the bill. “They pick on little projects that are inconsequential in terms of the whole budget to obscure the fact that most of these projects are badly needed,” the governor said.

“The bonding bill is really constrained by the Republicans’ ideological obsession with spending and doing as little as possible,” Dayton added. “We just have a fundamental difference of opinion on that.”

Both the Senate Capital Investment Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee will hear their respective proposals on Tuesday.

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