In the final hours of the legislative session, the Minnesota House and Senate passed a scaled-down bonding bill.
With just hours to go before the midnight end of the session deadline, the House began debate on a bill that will fund $176 million worth of projects around the state. Those projects include repairs to the aging State Capitol, flood mitigation efforts and the next stage of a major expansion for the Minnesota Veterans Home in Minneapolis.
"We will get thouands and thousands of construction workers off the bench" with this bill, said Rep. John Ward, DFL-Baxter.
The bill passed the House by a vote of 121-10 Monday evening. Minutes later, the Senate took the bill up without debate and passed it 57-6.
An $800 million bonding bill failed in the House last week. The Senate proposed a much smaller version, with only enough money to repair the Capitol and build a new parking structure. The House refused to concur with the Senate's proposal, but after a tense daylong standoff, it rolled out a bill of its own.
The new bill includes $109 million for the Capitol renovation, $22 million for the new parking garage, $20 million for flood mitigation, $19 million for the Minnesota Veterans Home in Minneapolis, which needs state backing for the next stage of a major renovaiton and expansion of its facility.
Capitol administrators had warned that if repair funding fell through this year, the project would have been set back two years, at a cost of millions more to the state.
"Our beautiful Capitol can finally get the long-term commitment it deserves," said Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City. "For years, its needs were shoved aside by politics, misplaced priorities and tight budgets. Tonight we rise above all that to do something right for the People's House. This building has no lobbyist to shill for it. It has us, and we must not let it down."
Over the weekend, heavy rains flooded one of the tunnels under the Capitol, highlighting the 108-year-old building's deteriorating condition.
"This Capitol is a 108-year-old building that's an iconic building for the state of Minnesota, but it is at its tipping point," Ward said. "Unfortunately, we saw some of that this week."
But for every project that made it into the final bonding bill, dozens more were cut, to the dismay of some lawmakers.
"What concerns me is what's not in this bill," said Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul.
His district was counting on the bonding bill to save a magnet school in his district. Crosswinds School, an arts and science school for children in grades 6-10, was hoping for bonding authorization to turn governance of the school over to the Perpich Center for the Arts.
"Unless we act, that state asset, which was built to educate kids of the East Metro Area in an integrated setting, is going to get mothballed," Mariani said.
Ward said the House had to disappoint a lot of communities to put together a bill that could pass on short notice.
"There's a lot of things in this bill that people are missing, from every corner of this state," Ward said. "From wastewater to ther veterans to roads and bridges to higher ed....When it gets down to the end of the session and you're still trying to do something good for the citizens of Minnesota, you do lose some stuff."
"While my heart aches for that facility," he added. "This is what we could come up with."