House Republicans said the $800 million bonding bill they introduced late Tuesday focuses on big state priorities such as transportation and water infrastructure, but it received a tepid reception from the other side of the aisle Wednesday.
The bill, which is more generous than the initial $600 million House target for bonding, offers $227 million for local roads and bridges, $130 million for wastewater and drinking water projects, and $137 million for higher education.
But DFLers on the House Capital Investment Committee, which passed the bill 11-9 along party lines Wednesday, complained that the bill shortchanges affordable housing, asset preservation, and other needs. The bill cleared the committee with less than a week remaining until the 2016 session is scheduled to adjourn.
It was later approved the Ways and Means Committee and late Wednesday afternoon was headed to the House floor for consideration.
The House Capital Investment Committee’s lead DFLer, Rep. Alice Hausman of St. Paul, said it will be tough get the 81 votes needed to pass the current bill on the House floor.
DFLers have pressed for a bigger bonding bill. Gov. Mark Dayton has requested $1.4 billion, and the DFL-controlled Senate is regrouping after a $1.5 billion bonding package fell just a vote short of passage earlier this month.
Rep. Paul Torkelson, the Hanska Republican who chairs the House Capital Investment Committee, said in a statement that the House bill “focuses on the priorities important to communities across Minnesota” and is a “true compromise that respects taxpayers by not exceeding our 10-year bonding average.”
But Hausman said the bill doesn’t have much for Minneapolis and St. Paul, has “zero” for housing, and offers the “smallest amounts for higher education we have had for quite a while” in a large bonding bill.
The bill has “massive amounts for transportation and water, local roads and bridges. …The problem is, those pots of money don’t necessarily pass a bill,” she added.
Housing was arguably the most notable omission.
Mary Tingerthal, commissioner of the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency, said at the hearing that the absence of funding is “leaving behind” 50 projects from local communities that anticipated the state assistance.
Those projects would preserve or build 3,500 units of housing for some of the lowest-income people in the state, she said. Moreover, roughly $125 million in private and federal investment “will not be made if these dollars are not available,” she said.
Rep. Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis, said the bill covers only $100 million out of a $400 million combined request for asset preservation.
“Because you are not funding it, you are adding debt to the other side of the ledger and then literally pretending it’s not there,” she said at the hearing. “Crumbling infrastructure doesn’t stop crumbling because we are pretending it’s not there.”
Torkelson said asset preservation has never been fully funded in a bonding bill. Moreover, he added, agencies should set aside money for preservation instead of expecting the bonding bill to “come riding in on a white horse.”
Speaking in a more general sense, Torkelson said it’s challenging to put together a bonding bill that can cover only a limited number of wish-list items among the $5.3 billion worth of requests.
The pot of requests has been getting bigger, he said.
“We continue to grow the pile of projects and grow the scope of the bonding bill. That pile and scope are not unlimited. … We can’t fund everything,” Torkelson said at the hearing.
Torkelson previously said the Senate bill was “very large” and that the House plan was much closer to the 10-year average of $800 million for a bonding bill in the second year of a biennium.
Gov. Mark Dayton’s $1.4 billion bonding recommendation differs from the Senate bill in that it’s light on transportation. Dayton said earlier this year that he wanted big road and transit projects to be taken up in a separate transportation package.
Specific projects in the House bill include the University of Minnesota’s Chemical Sciences and Advanced Materials Building in Duluth ($27.167 million), the second phase of the Minnesota Security Hospital project ($57.6 million), and a new intake unit at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in St. Cloud ($19 million).
The bill also sets aside money for a student health and academic renovation at St. Cloud State University ($18.572 million), repairs to the Centennial Parking ramp in the Capitol area ($7 million), and Science Museum building preservation ($13 million), among other projects.