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Seven DFL state senators threaten to withhold votes for bonding bill over Southwest light-rail line

Seven DFL state senators are threatening to withhold their support of a bonding bill, legislation that requires a super majority to pass, if legislative leaders don't approve $135 million in state funding for the Southwest Light-Rail Transit project.

The massive transit project, which would run between downtown Minneapolis and Eden Prairie, is at a critical funding juncture. If Minnesota provides $135 million in state funding for the proposed light-rain line, the project qualifies for $895 million in federal funding.

Without any state funding this year, the project is danger of losing priority for the federal funds, according to a letter sent to legislative leaders by the seven senators. The effort is led by state Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park.

"We want to let you know that we will not vote for a bonding bill that does not contain SWLRT funding unless that funding is already secured in another part of the legislative process," the letter said, adding that the funding could come from bonding, cash in a transportation bill or through a metro-area sales tax.

The late-stage maneuvering by the DFL senators could further complicate the politics of approving a bonding bill this year. Senate Democrats and Gov. Mark Dayton support authorizing the borrowing of more than $1 billion to pay for capital improvement projects around the state. House Republicans have proposed $600 million, but have so far not unveiled a bonding proposal. By law, a bonding bill has to originate in the House.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, on Thursday said many in his caucus do not support the the light-rail project, calling it a "controversial" issue. 

"Our hope is to create enough leverage so that when the folks at the bargaining table above my level make those final deals at the end of session, that they will make sure Southwest LRT is in that package," Latz said in an interview. "That's the leverage that we have because the bonding bill needs a super majority, and I don't expect that I'm going to be at the table in the negotiations."

The other DFLers who support the effort are state Sens. Melisa Franzen of Edina, John Hoffman of Champlin, Jim Carlson of Eagan, Chris Eaton of Brooklyn Park, Kathy Sheran of Mankato and Barb Goodwin of Columbia Heights.

The letter was sent Monday to Sen. Leroy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, chair of the Senate Capital Investment Committee. Stumpf is expected to unveil his bonding proposal Monday. 

Latz SWLRT Letter 4.25.2016 by RicardoStrib

Dayton wants more school counselors, expanded preschool facilities

Gov. Mark Dayton on Thursday urged legislative leaders to approve additional funding to hire school counselors, among other professional staff, and a grant program to improve the state's preschool facilities.

Dayton said he wants $13.1 million for a grant program that would increase the number of school counselors, psychologists, social workers and other staff. Minnesota has 1 counselor for every 792 students, a high ratio that advocates say leaves students under-served.

The governor also wants $40 million for a grant program that school districts could tap into to pay for facilities expansion for Dayton's goal of eventual universal preschool.

"Although facilities assistance funding was in my original voluntary prekindergarten proposal, these additional resources would help more districts alleviate space shortages -- paving the way for voluntary prekindergarten," Dayton wrote in his letter to House Speaker Kurt Daud, R-Crown, and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook.

Dayton's request comes with about a month left in the legislative session. House Republicans on Monday approved a supplemental budget for education that had no new spending. The legislation paid for new programs through savings -- about $55 million -- the state expects once some school districts repay outstanding state loans by the end of the year.