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Senate bonding bill differs from House, Dayton plans

Sen. John Carlson of Bemidji looks away from the committee table briefly Wednesday while a Senate panel considers a $496 million bonding bill. Next to him is Sen. Gretchen Hoffman of Vergas.

ST. PAUL -- A Senate committee vote this morning sets up complex three-way negotiations about funding public works projects.

The Senate Capital Investment Committee overwhelmingly approved selling $496 million in bonds to fund public works projects such as fixing state facilities and helping communities pay for sewer systems.

It is the third proposal and falls in the middle of the other two. A House bill would spend $280 million, and Gov. Mark Dayton proposes $761 million.

To further complicate things, the three sides vary widely on how to renovate the Capitol: The Senate would pay $25 million to fix the Capitol's exterior, the House is looking at a $221 million bill separate from its main bonding proposal for an extensive repair job and Dayton supports a $241 million project but included none of that in his bonding proposal.

Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem, also public works financing chairman, resisted efforts to significantly change his bill, indicating several times during a two-hour meeting that the bonding bill "is a very tender, gentle" process and any change could affect its support.

"I just don't want to raise the temperature," he said.

Republicans who control the House and Senate generally support smaller bonding bills, leaving Senjem and House bonding Chairman Larry Howes, R-Walker, walking a tightrope to get support.

Several Democrats on Senjem's committee complained his bill spends too little, the Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, predicted spending would grow by the time the bill reaches Democrat Dayton's desk.

Senjem threw cold water on that idea. When added to last year's bonding bill, this one would mean the state would spend $1 billion in the two-year legislative session. He said that is the most the GOP can stomach.

The Senate bill is expected to pass out of the Finance Committee Thursday and receive a full Senate vote Friday. The final committee vote on Howe's House bill is expected later today.

Once the House and Senate pass their bonding bills, they will go to a conference committee to work out the major differences between them. Dayton aides also may be involved in the committee discussion.

Often, a bonding bill gets tied up with other issues as a legislative session ends, but Langseth said he hopes politics do not derail bonding this year.

Langseth ran for one last term in the Senate to funding flood-control projects along the Red River and elsewhere in the state. The Senate bill would provide $30 million out of $40 million the Department of Natural Resources says is needed, a figure Langseth said he can live with.

The House bill includes $4.4 million in flood money and Dayton suggests $20 million.

There are differences like that throughout the three proposals.

For instance, Dayton wants $78 million for University of Minnesota repairs and construction while the House and Senate each set the amount at $39 million. For Minnesota State Colleges and Universities campuses, however, the Senate suggests spending $127 million, Dayton $112 million and the House $56 million.