Minnesota House Republicans proposed $800 million in public-works bonding projects on Wednesday, moving closer to the total amount sought by Gov. Mark Dayton but failing to satisfy DFLers who have clamored for more and whose votes are needed to pass it.
The construction bonding bill was not the only major legislative initiative that looked shaky Wednesday. Talks appeared to be stalled on major new transportation spending, something that leaders from both parties say is needed but that is hung up over Republicans’ refusal to include money for transit projects in Minneapolis and St. Paul.
“I don’t think I see a path at this point to finish transportation,” said Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook. That pronouncement came after a 15-minute meeting between Dayton, Bakk and Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt that produced no signs of progress in bridging their divides.
Dayton also made clear after the brief meeting that he had moved on from trying to resuscitate the transportation package.
Meanwhile, Monday’s deadline for legislators to adjourn for the year drew closer. Failure to agree on a transportation deal or on a bonding bill has the potential to derail other major goals in the dwindling time left.
To that end, Dayton said he would not sign a tax cut craved by Republicans unless they agree to certain spending provisions he is seeking.
Those include $124 million to pay for additional staff members at mental security hospitals in St. Peter and Anoka; money to avoid layoffs at the Department of Corrections, and additional funding for the University of Minnesota Medical School and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, according to a memo he distributed to legislative leaders. He also wants $100 million for rural broadband expansion and a package of racial equity proposals.
“This is my list of must-haves,” Dayton said. “And it’s Minnesota’s list of must-haves. It’s not about getting what I want. It’s about getting what Minnesota needs.”
Daudt was more optimistic after his brief meeting with Dayton and Bakk. “I always think we’re making progress,” Daudt said.
The House bonding plan
The House Republican bonding plan, released late Tuesday night, includes $947 million in total spending — $800 million in construction bonds, with the rest coming from other sources. It sets aside nearly a third of its spending for highway improvements.
The measure includes an additional $227 million for local road and bridge repairs, $130 million for water infrastructure projects, and $137 million for campus projects at public colleges and universities.
The Science Museum of Minnesota would receive $13 million and the Mall of America would get a transit station. The Security Hospital in St. Peter and the Anoka Treatment Center, both of which have endured security problems, would also get money.
The bill “focuses on priorities important to communities across Minnesota,” said Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, who assembled it.
Because bonding bills leverage state debt to pay for projects, they require a three-fifths “supermajority” in order to pass. Under the current party makeup in the House and Senate, that means both Republicans and DFLers must chip in votes. Earlier in May, a considerably larger $1.5 billion bonding bill died in the Senate after all but one Republican voted against it.
The House bill on Wednesday looked like it could head for the same fate. House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, blasted the proposal as he maintained that it largely focused its resources on projects in districts represented by Republicans.
“It’s the most partisan bonding bill I’ve ever seen,” Thissen said.
The bill needs 81 votes to pass the House, meaning it would need at least eight DFL votes, assuming that all 73 Republicans vote for it.
“I think this bill is in big trouble when it hits the floor,” said Rep. Lyndon Carlson, DFL-Crystal, one of the House’s longest-serving members.
Failure to pull together on transportation, bonding and other priorities would leave legislators headed back to their districts with not much to show for the last two years, even as they prepare to face voters in November.
Zach Rodvold, a spokesman for Thissen, said majority House Republicans would pay a political price for a do-nothing session.
“The riskiest part of the strategy is banking on an electorate that will reward them for doing nothing,” Rodvold said. “I don’t understand that as a political strategy.”
Daudt pushed back against the idea that Republicans would bear the burden of public frustration if legislators finish on Monday without a transportation deal, bonding bill or tax cuts.
He pointed out that GOP plans have centered on spending about a third of the state’s projected $900 million budget surplus on transportation, which DFLers have opposed.
“I’m not the one who’s going to have a tough time in the election cycle,” Daudt said, “because I’m very easily and very deeply on the side of the public, and the public is very much backing my position.”
Staff writers Maya Rao and Ricardo Lopez contributed to this story.