Legislature’s path forward unclear after bonding defeat

ST. PAUL -- The Minnesota Legislature is in limbo after Thursday's narrow defeat of a major issue on the table this year."I think for those Republicans who want to have a do-nothing session, they don't feel we should spend any money, they may get...

Minnesota Republican legislative leaders
Minnesota Republican legislative leaders talk to reporters Thursday about the loss of a Senate public works funding bill. In the background is the state Capitol building, undergoing a $300 million renovation. (DON DAVIS | FORUM NEWS SERVICE)
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ST. PAUL - The Minnesota Legislature is in limbo after Thursday’s narrow defeat of a major issue on the table this year.
“I think for those Republicans who want to have a do-nothing session, they don’t feel we should spend any money, they may get their way,” Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, said after a Democratic public works funding bill failed by a single vote.
The public works bill, to be financed by the state selling bonds, was written to include projects in both Democratic and Republican districts, a way that usually attracts votes from both parties, Bakk said.
All Republicans other than Sen. Carla Nelson of Rochester voted against the bill (Republican Sen. Michelle Fischbach of Paynesville was absent, but was expected to oppose it). They said that at $1.5 billion, it would borrow and spend too much money. Republicans who control the House have not announced details of their bonding bill, but set the top limit at $600 million. That is not enough to please House Democrats.
“The House can’t get a bill passed because it is too small,” Bakk said. “The Senate can’t get a bill passed because it is too big. I am just not sure how we get it to a conference committee to work out differences.”
While Bakk was pessimistic about finishing the big issues of bonding, budget, transportation funding and tax cuts by the constitutionally mandated May 23 adjournment date, not so for Republicans.
“We have plenty of time,” Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said. “There is a lot of room to negotiate, there is a lot of room to compromise.”
House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said Republicans are committed to working on a bonding bill. He also said the GOP is willing to negotiate transportation funding, as long as Democrats drop their new gas tax proposal.
Thursday’s bonding 40-26 vote fell one short of the needed three-fifths majority.
Bakk said he does not know what the path to passing a bonding bill can be. His Democrats, and some Republicans, were critical of what Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, described as a compromise bonding plan that would spent about $900 million.
Hann criticized Bakk’s comments that the bonding bill could be dead. “You don’t give us what we want and you are done? That is not how we do it in this state.”
The Senate Democrats’ bill of $1.5 billion that failed is close to the $1.4 billion plan Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton offered. The Republican-controlled House plans a $600 million proposal, but Daudt on Thursday would not say when details will be released.
Senjem said the GOP proposal “skinnies it up,” referring to the bigger Democratic plan.
Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, said senators get emails every day saying the House plan is too low, while Republicans said the Democratic plan was too pricey.
“This is a great compromise,” Ingebrigtsen said. “That is what they are looking for.”
Democrats went through the smaller bill, complaining about things Senjem left out. It dropped many projects Democrats would fund in communities, facilities such as police and fire departments and it skipped funding a new state emergency management center.
“More and more communities are needing help,” bill sponsor Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, D-Plummer, said. “We can forget about them or build them up.”
Stumpf said he received more than $5 billion in project requests and is disappointed Republicans could not see the good in his legislation.
“This bill gave us a tremendous opportunity to do good -- to solve traffic problems in high fatality areas, to fix millions of dollars’ worth of asset preservation projects on our college and university campuses and to bring equity to communities across the state,” Stumpf said. “We also had an opportunity to help dozens of towns and cities across Minnesota fix, repair or upgrade their clean water and wastewater infrastructure.”


Minnesota Senate Republicans defeat $1.5B public works bill

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