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Rep. Dean Urdahl of Grove City studies a board showing votes Thursday on a Capitol repair bill. During a speech asking for support for the bill, which failed, Urdahl hoisted a 15-pound piece of granite that had fallen off the Capitol. (Don Davis/Forum Communications Co.)

Minn. House rejects Capitol repair; overall bonding bill also in doubt

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ST. PAUL -- Minnesotans should be proud of their Capitol and repair its crumbling outside walls, its outdated electrical system and interior that is falling apart, Republicans said Thursday in an unsuccessful effort to fund the long-discussed work.

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Eleven Democrats joined Republicans in an 80-50 vote to sell $221 million of bonds to finance the work. It needed 81 votes to pass.

"I am not going to bring it up (again) unless they (Democrats) will come ask," bill sponsor Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker, said.

Thursday's vote raises doubt about a general public works financing bill that Democrats want to grow. Howes, chairman of the public works financing committee, said he can wait. "I'm a patient man."

However, little time remains. Legislative leaders want to adjourn the 2012 session by April 30.

Dramatic and emotional speeches about fixing the Capitol punctuated debate

Some people say more time is needed to analyze the problem, Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, said.

"To them, I say, analyze this before another piece of the Capitol crumbles down," Urdahl said, hoisting in the air a 15-pound chunk of Georgian marble that had fallen off the building's exterior.

For Majority Leader Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, the discussion was about pride in the Minnesota seat of government.

"Has anyone seen North Dakota's Capitol?" he asked. "It's like State Farm calling: 'We want our building back.'"

"It's embarrassing," he said about North Dakota's Capitol, one of the country's three "skyscraper" capitols.

Howes told colleagues that Minnesotans support fixing the Capitol, and Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton backs it. With two Republicans gone for the day, and one seat vacant, the vote was one short of the 81 needed for passage.

"If we can't commit to this, what can we commit to?" Howes asked.

The Senate public works bill, to be funded by the state selling bonds, includes $25 million for the Capitol in a nearly $500 million proposal.

The House opted to break the Capitol into its own bill, apart from other public works projects. Its main public works bill would spend $280 million, which Democrats say is too far little, so they withheld votes on the Capitol bill.

House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said that during the vote he offered House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, to deliver the Capitol votes if he would commit to offering a $775 million public works bill. Republicans say they cannot support one that large.

"They want a very focused bonding bill," Urdahl said about his GOP colleagues.

"What Minnesota needs is a bonding bill more robust with projects around the state," Thissen said.

Democrats have been more vocal about the need to pump up the second public works bill, so its future is unclear in light of the Thursday vote.

"We will take a deep breath and wait for a little bit," Howes said about the future of the two bills.

However, he said, "I am not going to sell my soul to restore the people's house."

Howes said Democrats withheld votes so they can campaign saying the Republican-controlled House and Senate resulted in a "do-nothing Legislature."

He said Democratic-leaning union members packed the House gallery during debate and House Democrats defied their party's governor.

Howes called Democrats "a do-nothing minority."

"Greed is stepping on" fixing the Capitol, Howes added.

Urdahl, a longtime Capitol supporter and history buff, said the repair bill should have passed "because it is the right thing to do."

The building was not designed in 1905 for today's electronic uses, he said. "The future of our Capitol, the people's house, is up to us."

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

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Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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