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Senate DFLers propose borrowing $1.5B for improvement projects

Senate Democrats on Monday proposed borrowing nearly $1.5 billion to pay for capital improvement projects across the state, setting up a clash with House Republicans who have yet to unveil their much smaller, $600- million bonding plan.

The bonding proposal, or so-called jobs bill, would fund projects at Minnesota colleges and universities, upgrade some roads and bridges, water treatment facilities and improvements to the state's public safety and parks programs. If approved, it would create an estimated 40,000 jobs, Senate DFLers said.

"This is not a 'Cadillac' bonding bill, it's a Ford or a Chevy bonding bill," said Sen. Leroy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, and chairman of the Senate Capital Investment Committee. "It's very basic."

Stumpf provided an overview of the bill Monday in a news conference, where he highlighted projects he said were critical to fund this year. 

Stumpf said about a third of the bill would pay for transportation and infrastructure upgrades, while the next largest chunk -- about 18 percent -- would pay for projects for education and human services. 

About 13 percent of the proposal would pay for environmental protection; 11 percent for public safety and another 10 percent for asset protection.

Among major projects included in the bill are $160 million for the University of Minnesota system, $117 million for human services, and $127 million for employment and economic development. A full list of projects can be found here

Senate DFL leaders in recent weeks have called on House Republicans to unveil their bonding proposal, which GOP leaders have budgeted $600 million for. By law, bonding bills have to originate in the House.

Senate Democrats and Gov. Mark Dayton have proposed more than twice as much for the bonding bill, arguing the state should take advantage of low interest rates.

The bonding bill is expected to be hotly debated at the Capitol this year. It requires a super majority to pass, requiring votes from all four legislative caucuses.

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