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Senate Capital Investment Committee Chair David Senjem said the bill strikes a balance between controlling spending and meeting infrastructure needs. (File photo)
Senate Capital Investment Committee Chair David Senjem said the bill strikes a balance between controlling spending and meeting infrastructure needs. (File photo)

Minnesota Senate GOP proposes $825 million bonding bill

Minnesota Senate Republicans unveiled their $825 million bonding bill Wednesday, matching the amount proposed in the House last week but falling well short of the $1.5 billion sought by Gov. Mark Dayton.

In a video introducing the proposal, Senate Capital Investment Committee Chair David Senjem said the bill strikes a balance between controlling spending and meeting infrastructure needs.

“[$825 million] is certainly a lot of money, but we have a lot of infrastructure in our state that needs help,” said Senjem, R-Rochester. “We all know it.”

The largest cut of the bonding pie, more $342 million, would go to transportation. A breakdown of the bill lists more than 25 transportation projects. The largest individual projects by far involve widening three segments of Highway 14 in Dodge and Steele Counties, at $68.9 million, $68.5 million and $37.2 million. The long-delayed Highway 14 projects were not included in either the House or Dayton’s bonding proposals.

Senjem said another high priority in this year’s Senate bill is mental health, with $30 million going toward regional mental health crisis centers. The Minnesota Housing Finance Authority would receive $80 million in housing infrastructure bonds, with $50 million earmarked for “supportive housing” for people with behavioral health needs.

Also receiving major shares of the proposed bonding are higher education projects, at almost $215 million, and water infrastructure, at $120 million. The bill includes money for construction of three veterans homes — in Bemidji, Montevideo and Preston — and projects at four National Guard armories.

Abbey Bryduck, government affairs director for Associated General Contractors of Minnesota, said her group is pleased to see the heavy focus on transportation in both the House and in particular the Senate bonding proposals.

“We’ve been working in the last 10 years at getting more money into the system for transportation,” she said in an interview. “Bonding isn’t our first choice, but it seems to be where we’re having the most success.”

Minnesota’s legislative calendar is still thrown off by its last-minute failure to pass a bonding bill in 2016, which led to an unusually large odd-year $988 million bonding bill in 2017. While that bill filled the hole left from 2016, Bryduck said it shouldn’t reduce the amount legislators are willing to spend in the 2018 bonding bill. She added that the Senate proposal seemed “a bit lacking” in sectors other than transportation.

“We would like to see a bonding bill around the $1 billion mark, which is more traditional for a bonding year,” she said.

Now that both chambers of the Legislature have made their proposals public, they must now work toward an agreement, not just between the House and Senate, but also with the governor. Lawmakers must adjourn for the year May 21.

Similar debates have gone down to the final moments of the session, and beyond, in past years, but Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, sounded confident about this year’s reconciliation process in the Senate video.

“That’ll get done in the next few days, and it’ll get signed into law, if it goes the way I think it should,” he said.

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