As they returned to the State Capitol in February, leaders in Minnesota's divided Legislature identified a number of topics on which they hoped to find common ground. Near the top of the list was a plan to borrow $1 billion or more to pay for upgrades to roads, state buildings and other public infrastructure projects.
Nine months later, a deal on what's known in Capitol parlance as a bonding bill remains elusive.
Legislators will convene in St. Paul again on Monday for a fifth special session triggered by Gov. Tim Walz's extension of a pandemic peacetime state of emergency. The assembly presents another opportunity for lawmakers to pass the bonding bill.
Talks between Walz and legislative leaders aimed at reaching a deal continued throughout the week. Some insiders put the prospects at 50/50 or better.
Trade unions, local officials and others pushing the bill intensified lobbying efforts, citing a pressing need to greenlight projects and the jobs they'll create.
"We can't afford not to do this bill," said Jessica Looman of the Minnesota State Building and Construction Trades Council. "The economic realities of COVID are real and harsh, and winter is coming."
But as of Friday, major hurdles remained.
The bonding bill, unlike most legislation that works its way through the Capitol, requires a three-fifths majority to pass. That gives unusual power to minority caucuses in the House and Senate.
In early May, House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt drew a line in the sand: no support for a bonding bill unless the governor agreed to end the peacetime state of emergency.
The regular session ended in late May, emergency powers in place and bonding at a standstill.
Over the summer, the House GOP's objections expanded to include their lack of involvement in legislative discussions and what they called "poison pill" provisions in a version backed by the DFL in a July special session. In the Senate, the DFL caucus complained that majority Republicans failed to seek their buy-in.
Other top leaders, meanwhile, worked through the details of the size and shape of a bonding package. Rumors swirled that talks were getting closer in late summer, but financing rules related to the sale of previously authorized bonds prevented votes in August or September.
Now, with less than four weeks until the election, lawmakers are giving it one last shot. Committee chairs have drafted a bill they think can be tweaked to please all.
While House Republicans are said to be open to a bill, a looming budget deficit emerged as a new wrinkle. Given a dire fiscal outlook, which includes a $2.4 billion shortfall this budget cycle, Republicans want the bill to be revenue neutral, meaning it would include cuts to offset any debt service or additional costs included in a final deal.
Midweek, Walz expressed hope that a deal will be reached. He cited constructive talks with both Senate leaders, and his calendar included a call with House Speaker Melissa Hortman.
Daudt was not, at the time, on his dance card.