The Republican-controlled House passed a major environment, agriculture and jobs bill after hours of debate on Wednesday, leaving a wide gulf between the House and Senate, which have until May 23 to finish work for the year.
House Republicans, led by Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, chairman of a key jobs committee, cut about $20 million from existing economic development programs called the Minnesota Investment Fund and the Job Creation Fund for new spending on broadband Internet expansion, the Lewis & Clark Regional Water System, workforce housing and economic disparities, among many other programs.
About $12 million in the bill is new spending. The measure passed 72-54. The Legislature passed its two-year budget last year, but it is making its traditional even-year adjustments this spring.
“It’s not bigger government. It’s not smaller government. It’s smarter government,” Garofalo said at a news conference.
Spending on broadband infrastructure was a frequent source of debate, with Republicans proposing $15 million in new spending this year and $25 million next year. Garofalo said that when combined with federal and private-sector investment, the state money would total $250 million, so much that he said there could be a shortage of workers to engineer and install the infrastructure, he said.
DFL legislators said that the state money was insufficient and that it would fail to close a digital divide between metro and outstate residents, businesses and schools.
Broadband has become a fiery issue in a year when Republicans are trying to hold on to the 10 seats they flipped in 2014 in outstate Minnesota, where residents and businesses have been telling legislators they need better Internet access.
DFL Gov. Mark Dayton proposed $100 million for broadband this year, while the majority Senate DFL proposed $85 million.
The House GOP bill also would provide money for child care to address outstate shortages. It would fund the Department of Natural Resources to keep parks open uninterrupted and to pay for expected legal fees in the permitting of the PolyMet mining project. And it would pay for a few modest programs to address racial and ethnic economic disparities that have been much-discussed at the Legislature this year.
DFL legislators said the bill was insufficient for job creation, given the state’s $900 million projected budget surplus.
“This bill says, ‘We don’t care about job creation. We don’t care about the future of Greater Minnesota,’ ” said Rep. Erik Simonson, DFL-Duluth. “This is supposed to be a jobs bill. This is an anti-jobs bill.”
Garofalo said the legislation was intended to cut money for corporate subsidies while supporting programs that are beneficial for more Minnesotans over a wider area of the state.
The House debated the bill for several hours, voting down a series of DFL amendments.
Differences between House and Senate versions will be ironed out in a conference committee in the coming weeks.