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Minnesota House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, shown in an April 14 file photo, has sought to block Gov. Tim Walz’s proposal to borrow money for public construction projects until the Democratic governor ends his COVID-19 emergency powers. (AP file photo: Jim Mone)

$2 billion bonding bill clears House panel

A $2 billion bonding bill advanced in the Minnesota House on Tuesday despite opposition from critics who said action on bonding should wait until the governor loosens restrictions on doing business during the public health crisis.

On a party-line vote, the DFL-controlled House Ways and Means Committee approved the bill, which would tap into the state’s borrowing power to advance construction and maintenance projects related to higher education, transportation, housing, natural resources and more.

The approval sends the measure to the House floor, where it needs a three-fifths “super majority” to be approved. Put another way, at least some Republican support will be necessary to move the bill to Gov. Tim Walz’s desk.

A good deal of the Ways and Means Committee debate centered less on the need for the projects than on the governor’s recent executive orders, which have temporarily shuttered many businesses in the interests of reducing the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Republicans on the committee voted in solidarity with House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, who said in a statement earlier this month that the GOP won’t move on bonding as long as the governor’s COVID-19 emergency restrictions remain in effect.

Standing with Walz, DFLers on the committee said now is the time to invest in capital projects as a way to create jobs during tough economic times and to address brick-and-mortar needs across the state, including asset preservation.

Laura Ziegler, director of government affairs for the Associated General Contractors of Minnesota, said the party-line vote “indicates there’s a ways to go before getting the required three-fifths majority in the House.”

“It’s not necessarily unusual for a bonding bill to be negotiated between the four caucuses during the last week of session. However, the House minority leveraging Governor Walz’s peacetime emergency authority to passing a bonding bill sets up a stronger likelihood of a special session in mid-June,” Ziegler added in an email.

At Tuesday’s committee meeting, Rep. Tony Albright, R-Prior Lake, questioned the need to bring up a bonding bill in Ways and Means “until we hear a response from the governor” about reopening the state’s economy.

“I would argue that we need to be eating what’s on our plate first in making sure we open up Minnesota before we get the dessert,” Albright added.

Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, said the bill “ignores” the “major reality” that the governor is exerting his emergency powers “in an arbitrary fashion.”

“The governor has decided that the state’s largest candy store can be open, which is a good thing, but I want that opportunity for other businesses across Minnesota,” Garofalo said.

Rep. Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis, retorted that the bonding bill would put people to work and boost the economy. Backers of the bill have said the spending would create up to 30,000 jobs in Minnesota.

“This isn’t dessert; this is how people pay for the meat, the vegetables, the bread and the milk,” Davnie said.

As measured by general obligation bond issuance, the biggest servings would go to the Public Facilities Authority ($326.1 million), the University of Minnesota ($161.88 million), Minnesota State Colleges ($223.2 million), the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources ($201.2 million), the Department of Employment and Economic Development ($188.587 million), the Metropolitan Council ($128.4 million) and the Minnesota Department of Transportation ($133.5 million).

Counting all funding sources, including Trunk Highway bonds, the bonding bill would support about $452.9 million worth of MnDOT projects, including local roads ($53.2 million), local bridges ($53.2 million), and facilities ($40 million).

The bill also advances capital projects for the Department of Corrections ($66.259 million), the Department of Human Services ($75.8 million) and the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency ($48 million for Public Housing Rehabilitation).

Other line items in the bill include: $25 million for Minnesota Zoo projects; $21.89 million for Military Affairs; $54.3 million for the Department of Public Safety; $20.749 million for the departments of Health and Agriculture; and $53.59 million for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

Prior to the 2020 session, the Legislature fielded roughly $5 billion worth of requests for state general obligation bonding. That includes $3.7 billion from state agencies and $1.3 billion from local governments.

Rep. Mary Murphy, DFL-Hermantown, chair of the House Capital Investment Committee, said Tuesday that her committee held 43 hearings, heard 250 bills, and traveled the state for 17 “long, long days” during the past biennium to learn more about bonding requests.

Throughout that process, people talked about their “needs, their hopes, and their dreams,” she said.

“This bill is a substantial answer for the people’s need to be connected. … It’s also a bill that addresses the basic infrastructure of our state, whether it’s clean water or repairing roads and bridges. … The governor has talked all biennium about bringing Minnesota together, and this really, truly does that,” Murphy said.

Related:

Bonding 2020: Preserving the state’s educational assets


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