It could come down to six Republican legislators.
For more than half a year, members of the Minnesota House have tried and failed to get a bipartisan supermajority for a major public works construction package. Local government leaders, unions and construction workers say the billion-dollar-plus borrowing proposal, known as a bonding bill, would provide a much-needed boost during the pandemic-induced recession.
As the Legislature gathered Monday for its fifth special session of the year, Democratic House leaders expressed confidence that they could finally get the six GOP votes they need to pass a bill. But without the support to fast-track the bonding bill in one day, DFL House Majority Leader Melissa Hortman delayed a vote in hopes of passing the measure by Wednesday.
But even after talks that intensified over the weekend, Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said Monday there was still no final agreement, suggesting that Democrats might be upping the ante.
“The important things in this bill, about $200 million in tax relief for Main Street and farmers, $700 million for road and bridges, and $300 million in wastewater treatment are being put in jeopardy by additional amendments, conversations, and backroom antics we are not a part of,” he said in a statement.
The latest maneuvering on the long-stalled bonding package came as Gov. Tim Walz announced the seventh extension of the state of emergency that has given him special powers to handle the COVID-19 pandemic. Repeated GOP efforts to rescind the peacetime emergency have failed, with the governor’s DFL allies in the House holding steady.
Senate Republicans voted 36-31 Monday to end Walz’s powers, but the DFL-led House once again blocked the effort.
One of the sticking points holding up the bonding bill has been House Republicans’ insistence that Walz give up his emergency powers. But GOP leaders have shifted away from that condition and instead are focused on trying to prevent additional state spending. Meanwhile, Democrats asserted that some Republican House members will break ranks with party leadership to support the bill.
The Republican-controlled Senate proposed a $1.87 billion infrastructure bill that included roughly $1.36 billion in general obligation bonds. It would create jobs as well as ensuring the state is responsibly maintaining its infrastructure, said Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester.
“Our economy has been suffering with a bit of the pandemic fallout,” Nelson said. “And of course this capital investment bill, in so many ways, is that jobs bill that is really going to be that shot in the arm that is going to help our Minnesota economy recover quicker.”
A nearly $1.88 billion bill in the House includes about $1.37 billion in general obligation bonds, which Hortman said has grown in size to include more GOP-supported projects. She also stressed that there’s an urgent need to get the economy moving.
House Democrats are also pushing for some tax cuts and a supplemental budget bill with funding for the Department of Human Services’ direct care and treatment programs, Corrections Department overtime and the law enforcement response to civil unrest. The supplemental budget would include about $35 million from the general fund over the current two-year budget cycle, but that would be offset by revenue and spending changes.
While Hortman said some Republicans have joined in support of their bonding bill, she is still in talks with GOP Minority Leader Kurt Daudt to try to get broader backing for the bonding measure. House GOP leadership has stressed that given the state’s looming budget deficit, they want the Legislature to make some spending cuts to cover the debt service on the bonds. Democrats have countered that bonding stimulates the economy and results in more tax dollars flowing to the state.
The House and Senate bills would allow the state to borrow money by issuing bonds to support a variety of construction and repair projects across the state. But the borrowing must be supported by a 60% supermajority in each chamber. The two versions also must be identical, requiring further negotiations between Senate and House leaders.
As talks continued Monday, legislators continued to clash over different elements of the governor’s COVID-19 response, including the face masks mandate. Sen. Chris Eaton, DFL-Brooklyn Center, filed a complaint in late August with the Minnesota Occupational Safety and Health Division over GOP senators not wearing face coverings in indoor spaces as required by Walz’s orders.
Legislators were mostly wearing masks Monday, although some took them off to speak. At a couple points, Hortman told House members to wear masks on the floor.
Neither Daudt nor Gazelka was at the Capitol on Monday. They have both self-quarantined after potential exposure during President Donald Trump’s visit Oct. 1.