Republicans in the Minnesota Senate have proposed a $496 million bonding bill for public works projects throughout the state, and they're promising swift action on the measure.
But the package of construction projects has significant differences from the bonding plans offered earlier by House Republicans and DFL Gov. Mark Dayton.
A "BALANCED BILL"
Senate Republicans are describing their bonding bill as a "bricks and mortar" measure. The largest portion of the bill is $179 million for more than a a dozen building projects on college campuses throughout the state, but mostly in the MnSCU system. There's also $35 million for roads and bridges, $30 million for flood mitigation projects and $25 million for exterior renovations of the State Capitol building.
Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem of Rochester, who also chairs the Capital Investment Committee, said he thinks the bonding proposal is reasonable.
"I think overall it's a balanced bill, rural, urban — even by political party," Senjem said. "I'm pretty satisfied with it."
At $496 million, the Senate bonding bill falls far short of the $775 million plan Dayton proposed back in January. It also differs significantly from the two-bill approach House Republicans are taking. The House has a modest $280 million bonding package, along with another $220 million bonding bill specifically for the full renovation of the Capitol.
The Senate bill includes convention center projects in St. Cloud and Rochester, but not Mankato. A dolphin tank for the Minnesota Zoo made the cut, but a regional ballpark for St. Paul did not.
When it comes to local economic development projects, Senjem described the assembly of the bill as a delicate balance aimed at garnering the needed votes.
"There are a lot of members that look at this bonding bill from the standpoint of it being bread and butter, and that's about all it ought to be," Senjem said. "To venture into an economic development project, no matter what it is in a bill, is a philosophical difference."
DFL SENATORS WANT A BIGGER BILL
The committee approved the bill on a divided voice vote. Several Democrats complained about the size of the bill and the projects left out.
Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, said the bill is too small. But given the even smaller House bonding proposal, Langseth said he was willing to support the Senate bill.
"There's still some holes here," he said. "I think if every one of us would have put together a bill, every one would have a different bill. But compared to certain others that we know about, particularly across the way, this one is a giant step forward."
Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, said she was disappointed by several omissions, including any funding for the proposed Southwest corridor light rail line from Eden Prairie to downtown Minneapolis.
"If we're going to get a light rail transit system throughout the metropolitan area, then every couple of years we've got to be funding a new corridor," she said.
Pappas also said she thought the amount for the Capitol renovation was insufficient. But Majority Leader Senjem explained later that Senate Republicans have concerns about the larger renovation plan and the prospect of losing some of their office space in the process.
"I mean we're losing 35,000 square feet in their plan. I think we have to be a little bit deliberative about getting too anxious until we collectively as a group understand the ramifications and accept them," Senjem said.
The Senate bonding bill is on a fast track. It's scheduled for a Finance Committee hearing Thursday, and a floor vote Friday. Floor votes are also expected soon on the two House bills. Senjem said he thinks conference committee negotiations should get under way next week.