House plan: a numbers game

MARSHALL – A group of people representing Greater Minnesota cities on Wednesday called on legislators to take action on taxes, bonding and transportation.

They’re not the only ones growing impatient.

While the Minnesota Senate and the governor have made their intentions known on public works projects and other issues around the state, the waiting game continues for the House to unveil its plan.

With the session set to end May 23, the fate of things like transportation funding and tax relief – and how the entire budget surplus is going to be spent, if it’s going to be spent at all – is still up in the air.

“We’ve been in this position before,” District 16A House Rep. Chris Swedzinski said in an interview with the Independent on Friday. “We’ve got a lot of work left to do in a few days, but we can get a lot of work done in a short time. I think, in general, we agree with what we want addressed with bonding. All the bills have been heard and seen, tours have been done for bonding – we just need to set a number.”

Easier said than done apparently.

Swedzinski said House Democrats don’t want anything to do with the $600 million bill House Republicans have proposed.

“They said they wouldn’t put up a single vote on $600 million without even looking at it,” he said. “The Senate’s $1.8 million failed, the House Democrats won’t pass the $600 million bill, so what’s the number gonna be?”

Indeed, that is the question.

The Minnesota Senate’s public works bill was a big one – $1.5 billion of borrowing, which eclipsed even Democrat Gov. Mark Dayton’s $1.4 billion proposal. Republicans were quick to criticize the size of the bill.

Last week, the that bill was brought to the floor, but it received just 41 votes – one short of what it needed for a three-fifths majority. One Republican senator, Sen. Carla Nelson of Rochester, voted for the bill because it made sense for one of the counties in her district.

The Senate public works package was geared toward an overhaul of aging water infrastructure systems, provided money for upkeep at public college and university campuses and spent $400 million for much-needed road and bridge repairs.

With the clock ticking on the 2016 legislative session, Democrats, as well as the voting public, are waiting for Republicans to offer their bonding bill. House Leader Kurt Daudt and other Republicans have said their bill will be a $600 million proposal, but there has been no list of specific projects.

“I think we’re looking at a bill that’s robust with critical infrastructure things – water, transportation, other local projects as well,” said Swedzinski, R-Ghent. “I’m not sure when the bill is coming forward. I know talks are ongoing between folks across the state and between parties.”

Dayton and his staff are expected to prepare a transportation offer this weekend and announce it Monday morning, Swedzinski said in his weekly newsletter. It would come on the heels of House Republicans offering a compromise transportation proposal Wednesday based off their 10-year plan to meet the state’s road and bridge infrastructure needs without raising the gas tax.

The state is in the middle of a two-year budget cycle, and there is already a state budget in place, District 16 Sen Gary Dahms said. If the governor, Senate Democrats and House Republicans do not reach agreement on what to do with the $900 million surplus, that money would go into the state’s reserve account.

“We need to come up with a number,” Swedzinski said. “We really need to get down to brass tacks and negotiate – we’ll put this into transportation; we’ll put this into bonding; we’ll put this into taxes “