A much-anticipated $800 million public-works package by House Republicans failed by 12 votes on Thursday, leaving the fate of dozens of construction projects and other budget priorities in limbo with three days left until this year’s session ends.
Legislative leaders reported little progress on major budget priorities such as transportation and bonding as high-stakes negotiations continued ahead of Monday’s adjournment.
The Republicans’ bonding proposal was defeated quickly, 69 to 64, after a short debate, no amendments and little DFL support. DFLers are demanding more money for bonding and were disappointed that House Republicans included a lot of road and bridge funding that they felt should be included in a separate transportation measure.
“Minnesotans know we need road and bridge repairs, water quality infrastructure improvements, and funding for our higher education institutions,” said Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, who is chairman of the bonding committee. “It was disappointing to hear Democrats claim this bill includes too many road and bridge projects — I think Minnesotans believe roads and bridges are a priority, and know these projects deserve support.”
A bipartisan group of House and Senate negotiators called a meeting for Friday morning to piece together a new bonding package, one with a mix of projects from proposals by DFL Gov. Mark Dayton, Senate DFLers and Republicans who control the House.
“There are many areas of agreement between us, and I look forward to finding common ground in order to help create jobs and get critical projects across the state the funding they need,” said Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, the Senate chairman of the committee.
House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, and other DFL leaders have steadfastly criticized Republicans for not including them in negotiations for a bonding package.
“The right way to pass a bonding bill is by working together on a bill that reflects the needs and priorities of all Minnesotan in all regions of the state,” Thissen said during the floor debate. “This bill is about the best politics for your caucus, the Republicans, not the best interest of all Minnesotans.”
The DFL lead on the House Capital Investment Committee, Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, said that a bonding bill is usually one-third higher education but that this year it is about half that. She also decried the lack of affordable housing in the bill, echoing criticism by other housing advocates who held a news conference ahead of the vote.
“We are very disappointed,” Minnesota Housing Finance Agency Commissioner Mary Tingerthal said. “An estimated 50 projects — coming from local communities to build housing for some of our lowest-income households — would be left behind. It would also leave roughly $125 million in private and federal investments on the table, if these dollars aren’t available.”
Dayton: It wasn’t enough
Dayton called a news conference before the bonding bill vote and said he agreed with House DFLers that the $800 million bonding bill would not adequately fund projects for higher education, affordable housing and other requests that totaled billions of dollars.
The House bill included $947 million in total spending — $800 million in construction bonds, with the rest coming from other sources. It set aside nearly a third of its spending for highway improvements. The measure included 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.
Racial equity pressed
A day of floor sessions and closed-door negotiations got interrupted when about 20 activists barged into House Republican offices on Thursday demanding to meet with Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, saying he had repeatedly rebuffed their requests for meetings to talk about proposals aimed at improving the lives of black Minnesotans.
Dayton this week included on his list of “must-haves” $100 million for racial equity proposals, similar to what the Senate DFL has proposed.
The broad package is intended to ease racial disparities in housing, employment and other areas.
The activists clashed with the legislative staff while Daudt and other representatives were on the House floor — and they vowed to stay until the speaker’s legislative assistant reached him and scheduled an appointment.
“We’ve presented all these solutions to them … and they’ve just ignored them,” said Wintana Melekin, civic and political engagement director for Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, which is part of a coalition called United Black Legislative Agenda.
Melekin and other activists at Neighborhoods Organizing for Change said they met this week with Dayton; Thissen; Rep. Joe Mullery, DFL-Minneapolis; Sen. Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis; Rep. Peggy Flanagan, DFL-St. Louis Park, and others to discuss the agenda. They said Daudt declined to join.
Melekin said the speaker’s office had rejected the group’s efforts to meet three times. Even after a staffer took down her phone number and emphasized that he would request a meeting, the group said it would stay in the office until a time was officially scheduled.
Staff writer J. Patrick Coolican contributed to this report.