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Minnesota Legislature: Bonding bill due in House, but GOP balks

ST. PAUL — The Minnesota House expects to debate a public works funding bill today without a controversial house fire sprinkler provision and with partial funding for a southwest Minnesota water project, but possibly without enough Republican support for the statewide construction plan to pass.

Democrats released what they said was an agreement about how to spend $846 million in borrowed money and another $279 million from the state budget surplus. But getting enough votes to pass the $846 million, to be repaid by the state selling bonds, remained in doubt Wednesday night.

Republicans were dragging their feet on the only bill Democrats really need their help to pass. Bonding needs a three-fifths majority to pass, and Democrats do not have enough members to do that on their own.

House Bonding Chairwoman Alice Hausman, D-St. Paul, said negotiators reworked earlier bonding bills to include more projects in Republican districts. She said she assumed Republicans would vote for it because it fit a deal Republican and Democratic lawmakers made last year.

But Hausman did not get a guarantee of enough GOP votes as negotiations proceeded in recent days.

“Legislative leaders remain in discussions about a path forward on the bonding bill,” House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said Wednesday night. “Today’s so-called agreement is nothing more than an idea between Democrat legislative leaders, and not a plan Republicans agreed to or were involved in crafting.”

Daudt said Republicans plan to continue to work on writing a bill members of both parties can support.

Hausman’s Senate counterpart did not appear worried about getting Republican votes for the bill.

“We worked very closely with the governor’s office, the House and our Republican counterparts in the Legislature to compile a bonding package that will benefit every corner of Minnesota,” Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, D-Plummer, said.

It was not clear when the House would begin debating the bill today, but it could last for hours.

Republicans and Democrats were filing a variety of amendments Wednesday night in preparation for today’s debate.

The Senate could take the bill up quickly after the House passes it, if it does, but only if Senate leaders can get enough votes to suspend rules that otherwise would not allow debate on the measure until Saturday. The state Constitution requires the final votes for this year’s legislative session to come no later than Sunday, giving little time to rewrite the bonding bill.

House and Senate leaders opted to remove a provision from the Senate bill that Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton blasted. It would have forbid his administration from enacting a rule requiring fire sprinklers in homes larger than 4,500 square feet.

Dayton said Wednesday that if people do not want to pay for sprinklers, they could build smaller homes. A majority of Minnesota homes would not need sprinklers under the rule.

In addition to sprinklers, the other fiery public works project is a nearly $70 million water system in southwestern Minnesota.

The Lewis and Clark system would pipe in water from South Dakota. Minnesota is being asked to pick up the tab after the federal government backed away from plans to fund it.

The Hausman-Stumpf bill includes $22 million for the project, which is enough to complete the next phase. However, Rep. Matt Dean of Dellwood, the top House bonding Republican, said that the Legislature generally funds an entire project, not just one phase.

Republicans have made Lewis and Clark their top bonding complaint.

Hausman said she was most proud of including $100 million for improving poor Minnesotans’ housing.

Among projects in the bonding bill are:

• $126 million to finish restoring the state Capitol building.

• $240 million for state-run college and university projects.

• $61 million for convention centers in Rochester, Mankato and St. Cloud.

• $18 million to acquire land for trails.

The cash bill would provide:

• $12 million to prevent floods.

• $56 million to remodel the state security hospital in St. Peter.

• $54 million for local road improvements.

•$24 million for local bridge replacement.

• $1.5 million for local ice arenas to replace outlawed cooling systems.

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.