DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and legislative leaders in his party increased pressure on House Republicans Wednesday to release their bonding proposal.
House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, has set a $600 million target for the statewide transportation and construction projects, but so far has not outlined which projects Republicans favor. The Legislature has fielded billions of dollars’ worth of requests for projects — everything from transportation funding to drinking water infrastructure to new university buildings.
“Even after traveling the state inspecting projects for two years, Speaker Daudt’s Republican caucus has shown no signs that they plan to release a specific bonding proposal,” Dayton said at a news conference. “These projects are critical for the vitality of our communities, for maintaining the quality of our higher-education institutions, and for assuring safe, affordable water for Minnesotans.”
The governor released his $1.4 billion proposal nearly four months ago, giving legislators time to review the proposed projects spread across the state.
Daudt countered that legislators should first come to agreement on how to spend the state’s $900 million projected budget surplus to cut taxes and fix Minnesota’s roads and bridges before discussing borrowing money. Republicans object to the DFL proposal to institute a gas tax to fund transportation improvements and have strongly objected to Dayton and DFLers’ plans for at least $1.4 billion in construction borrowing.
Daudt said bonding proposals by the Senate DFL and the Dayton administration would put the state in too much debt. But Daudt said “absolutely, no question” when asked if legislators would end the session with a bonding package.
“I do not see a scenario where we do not tackle transportation, taxes and a bonding bill,” Daudt said. “I think we do all three, and I think everybody at the end of the day is going to come together.”
But House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, accused the GOP of erecting “nothing but roadblocks. … We cannot start negotiating on this bill until we know what’s in it, until the cards are on the table.”
Legislators are facing a narrowing time frame to come to an agreement. The session must conclude in fewer than three weeks, giving legislators little time to negotiate final details.
Senate DFLers released their bonding proposal on Monday, then held public hearings to vet the proposed projects. The legislation calls for $1.5 billion in state spending, an amount that Republicans say is far too high.
Minnesota Management and Budget projected that the state could comfortably take on $3.2 billion in debt to pay for the projects, an amount that House Majority Leader Joyce Peppin, R-Rogers, said floored her. She added that debt service is the fastest growing part of the state budget and that “it’s our job to be good fiscal stewards of those dollars that are put on the credit card.”
For the past several years, legislators have approved roughly $1 billion in state bonding for the two-year budget cycle.
“Republicans just don’t get it,” said Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook. “Thousands of good-paying jobs would be created and critical infrastructure projects for communities large and small would benefit from a robust bonding bill. To imply that a bonding bill is not an essential part of this session for Minnesota’s economy is confounding.”
Bakk said that the bonding bill was the last major leg of the session and that “time is of the essence here.” He expects the Senate to pass the DFL’s bonding plan on Thursday.
The Legislature is constitutionally required to adjourn no later than May 23.