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Minnesota legislators debate importance of bonding bill

ST. PAUL — Dessert is pretty important to Paul Torkelson.

As strange as it sounds, that is one of the major holdups in getting legislative work done this year.

Torkelson, a Republican state representative from Hanska, famously calls a public works spending bill, to be financed by the state selling bonds, the “dessert” of the legislative session. That has drawn attacks from Democrats who think bonding is a main course.

“It comes at the end of the meal, and that’s for good reason,” Torkelson said Wednesday when asked why House Republicans have not released their bonding proposal with less than three weeks left in session.

“If you knew my wife, you would know she bakes a great pie...” he said. “You would know I hold dessert in very high esteem.”

House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, D-Minneapolis, prompted the comments by asking Torkelson, chairman of a committee that will draw up a bonding bill, about its progress.

Republicans who control the House have not released specifics about what projects they would fund in a public works bill, but Torkelson promised the information before the Legislature adjourns May 23. He said that topics like a transportation funding bill must wrap up first.

Thissen earlier joined fellow Democrats Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, and Gov. Mark Dayton in demanding Republicans spell out their bonding plans. Dayton earlier this year proposed spending  $1.4 billion on public works projects and Senate Democrats released a $1.5 billion bill this week that looked a lot like the Dayton plan.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, long has said his caucus will put forward a $600 million plan, with much of it earmarked for road and bridge work. A third of the Senate plan would go to transportation.

Bakk said Wednesday that the Democratic-controlled Senate will offer a new transportation plan Friday, but did not say if it will continue to propose a new gasoline tax or will rely more on borrowed money like the House prefers.

It was not clear how either chamber’s bonding package can pass. With the state Constitution requiring a three-fifths vote to pass bonding bills, the majority parties cannot pass them only with their own votes.

Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said in a Wednesday interview that he does not think any Senate Republican would vote for the $1.5 bil-

lion plan offered by Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, D-Plummer.

However, when asked, some Republican senators refused to say they would oppose the plan.

Likewise, Thissen said he did not think a House $600 million proposal would get enough Democratic votes to pass. A bonding bill likely will be negotiated by the governor and legislative leaders as part of a session-ending overall deal that includes transportation funding, tax cuts and spending increases.

While Democrats were criticizing Republicans’ lack of a bonding bill, the Senate Finance Committee struggled with finishing its bonding package.

Committee members waited for paperwork for more time Wednesday than they used discussing the bill.

Once they could begin debate, a $13 million appropriation to the Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul came under criticism by Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson and others. Newman said the state should not be on the hook to pay for damages from a roof leak years ago.

The committee passed the bill on a split voice vote, sending it to an expected Thursday full Senate vote.

“This is the biggest jigsaw puzzle of the state Legislature...” Senate Finance Chairman Richard Cohen, D-St. Paul, said, “and right now the pieces fit.


Nearly $1 billion separates Minnesota legislators on public works funding

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.