Passage of a major bonding bill for public building projects has been uncertain for much of the 2012 legislative session. But a fresh observer of the Minnesota House Monday -- Game Day for the Vikings stadium bill -- would never guess as much.
A $496 million bill crafted by a bipartisan rump group sailed smoothly through the House on a 99-32 vote, with every DFLer in the chamber joining a majority of Republicans in voting yes.
A similarly positive reception for the bill is expected in the Senate later in the day.
Why the weeks of angst and delay? House Republican leaders tried to make the bill small enough to win the votes of all, or nearly all, of their party's fold. The problem was that the smaller the bill became, the less likely it was to attract any of the DFL votes needed to achieve the 60-percent supermajority a bonding bill requires.
The bill's direction changed in recent days when leaders settled on a Goldilocks size -- neither the $775 million big bill proposed by Gov. Mark Dayton, nor the $280-million tiny version (one of several) proposed by House bonding chair Larry Howes, but a "just right" $496 million.
House GOP leaders deserve credit for putting the will of a bipartisan majority ahead of the desires of the most conservative members of their caucus.
Creativity and a lot of hard swallowing went into those 99 yes votes. The creative piece: a new $50 million competitive grant program for local business development projects, administered by the Department of Employment and Economic Development.
While the bill does not fund long-planned convention center projects in Rochester, Mankato and St. Cloud, those communities can compete for a grant from that fund.
Among those swallowing hard before voting yes were Rep. Steve Simon, DFL-St. Louis Park, a champion of the excluded Southwest Corridor light rail project, and Rep. Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis, her party's environmental conscience, who lamented the underfunding of measures to combat the invasion of Asian carp in the state's waterways. It had to pain Republicans Howes and Dean Urdahl, leading voices for a long-overdue $240 million renovation of the State Capitol, to agree to the modest $44 million down-payment the bill includes.
Still, this mid-sized bonding bill is big enough to remove the "do-nothing" tag from the 2012 Legislature. And its bipartisan backing bodes well for the rest of the lawmaking Game Day has on tap.