The Minnesota House passed a $1 billion borrowing bill Thursday, a measure with funding for a wide range of projects, including construction at the state's universities, light-rail transit in the Twin Cities, and Duluth Convention Center remodeling.
The 99-34 vote, more than the three-fifths majority required for a bonding bill, sets the stage for a conference committee to reconcile differences with a Senate bill that passed earlier this week. Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, the lead House negotiator, pledged to work swiftly to present a bill to Gov. Tim Pawlenty, possibly as soon as late next week.
"We take very seriously the right to be fiscally responsible in our borrowing," Hausman said.
The bonding bill, the traditional mechanism for bricks-and-mortar construction of state projects, also is being presented by supporters as a job-stimulation bill.
It's likely that the final bill will have to come in at $825 million or less to be acceptable to Pawlenty. That amount is 3 percent of projected general fund revenue, a limit that makes the debt more acceptable to bonding houses.
Even as the House was debating, Pawlenty released a letter to House and Senate leaders raising concerns that their bills exceed the 3 percent ceiling.
"The generous amount allowed by the cap should be more than sufficient to create a compromise bill that is also fiscally responsible," Pawlenty warned.
Sticking point: Como Zoo
Thursday's debate lasted for more than four hours, despite the overwhelming vote. Symbolic of concerns expressed about wants vs. needs, much of the debate centered on a proposed $11 million for renovation at the Como Zoo in St. Paul for polar bear and gorilla exhibits. Opponents suggested that priorities should be placed elsewhere at a time of strapped revenues.
"What kind of house can you build for $500,000 in your districts?" asked House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, R-Marshall. "What are the gorillas getting?"
Mark Brunswick • 651-222-1636
AMONG KEY PROVISIONS
$134 million for the University of Minnesota, including $48.3 million for a science center
$200 million for Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system
$70 million for Central Corridor light rail transit
$40 million for the Duluth entertainment center known as the DECC
$22 million for a Bemidji regional events center
$30 million for Itasca County for public infrastructure to support Minnesota Steel plant expansion.
$136 million for the University of Minnesota, including $48.3 million for a science teaching and student services center
About $280 million for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system
$70 million for the proposed Central Corridor light-rail project between Minneapolis and St. Paul
$38 million for remodeling of the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center
$28 million for infrastructure improvement in Itasca County for a new Minnesota Steel taconite/steel plant.