Minnesota House considers $1.4B public works borrowing bill
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota House reconvened Wednesday for what could be its last chance to pass a $1.37 billion public works construction borrowing package this year, with leaders of the Democratic majority gambling that they could pick up at least six Republican votes that are needed for final approval.
The legislation, known as a bonding bill, requires a 60% supermajority to pass. The Democratic-controlled House must approve it before it can go before the Republican-controlled Senate, which was scheduled to reconvene Thursday.
Democratic House Speaker Melissa Hortman, of Brooklyn Park, and House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, of Golden Valley, conceded before the opening gavel that they didn’t have a guarantee of getting the six Republican votes that they would need if all Democrats vote yes.
“I have friends in the Republican caucus, and I have friends who are lobbyists who talk to both our caucus and their caucus, and my friends in the Republican caucus suggest that it may be a painful process but it is likely to be successful,” Hortman told reporters. She added that lobbyists expected enough GOP votes in the end, too.
Lawmakers from both parties planned to offer amendments on the House floor, raising the possibility of a long debate.
“This is as good as it will get for the six Republicans who need to vote with us today,” Winkler said.
The bonding bill is the biggest piece of unfinished business left over from the 2020 regular session, which ended in May. With less than three weeks to go until the election, this was seen as the Legislature’s last chance to get it done this year.
The bill would finance $1.87 billion in public infrastructure projects statewide once other funding sources are counted. The House version also includes some supplemental spending to avoid layoffs of state employees and prevent the closure of two small correctional facilities, and a business tax break aimed at farms and small businesses.
House Republicans blocked attempts to approve bonding bills during earlier special sessions. Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, of Crown, wanted Democratic Gov. Tim Walz to give up the emergency powers that he’s used to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. Daudt recently dropped that demand and turned to seeking budget cuts to offset the debt service costs.
Winkler said the bill would create “thousands and thousands of jobs for construction projects all over the state” over the next several years, though he declined to speculate on a figure.
The bill included $300 million for highway rail grade separation projects, $324 million for other transportation needs, $90 million for the Minnesota State colleges and universities system, $75 million for the separate University of Minnesota system, and $100 million for affordable housing. A sampling of specific projects includes $55 million for bus rapid transit routes in the Twin Cities, $29.5 million for a new state emergency operations center and $18 million to replace the deteriorating Lake Bronson Dam in northwestern Minnesota.
“Every portion of this bill is essential to economic recovery in COVID-19,” Hortman said.