The Minnesota House completed a key task of the 2012 session today when it approved a bonding bill and sent it to Gov. Mark Dayton for his signature.
The House voted 97-33 to accept the Senate's changes to the $496 million package of public construction projects. The move avoids the need for conference committee negotiations.
The Senate amended the bill to redirect $2.5 million from an economic development fund to a flood prevention project in South St. Paul and a battered women's shelter in Maplewood.
Dayton has indicated he will sign the bill.
The bonding bill covers college campus projects, flood mitigation, roads and bridges. It also includes $44 million to begin the renovation of the State Capitol building.
But Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City reminded his colleagues that the allocation is only a start, and they need to remain committed to the project.
"We've begun the restoration. There are other stages and more money that needs to be appropriated in the future, and (I) urge you to remember that when you come back," Urdahl said.
The bill had broad bipartisan support, but some Republicans argued the bill adds too much to the state debt.
Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, was one of those.
"If Minnesotans only knew what this was. We say bonding. We say capital investment, all kinds of things to create this mystification about what this is," Drazkowski said. "This is borrowing more money on the backs of future taxpayers."
$47.5 FOR LOCAL PROJECTS
The bill also creates a $47.5 million fund to award grants. "It was perhaps a convenient way around what are some of the controversial parts of the bill," said Rep. Alice Hausman, the lead Democrat on the House Capital Investment Committee.
Bonding bills, which borrow money for statewide construction projects, can create tussles between lawmakers advocating for projects in their districts over those in other parts of the state. This year's bill does not include funding for a St. Paul Saints ballpark, or civic centers in Mankato, St. Cloud and Rochester.
The fund would be handled through the state's Department of Employment and Economic Development. The bill says applicants can include a wide range of projects, including those related to waste and drinking water, utilities, telecommunications and road and bridge work. Any grant money from DEED is expected to be matched by private funding under the bill.
The department would give priority to projects that create new jobs, boost the tax base and draw in revenue from outside the state, among other criteria. The grants are expected to be highly competitive.
Donna Drews, executive director of the Mayo Civic Center in Rochester, said medical conventions related to the Mayo Clinic would finally get a home at a new 188,000-square foot facility if grant money can be obtained. The project, which received $3.5 million in 2010 for planning, would seek approximatect.
"The swap of the two will actually generate more economic development," said Kramer, a former DEED commissioner.
As the legislation moved through the House and Senate, lawmakers in both houses tried to siphon money from the fund for their own projects.
Two amendments adopted in the Senate on Monday removed a combined $2.5 million from the fund, which was originally set at $50 million, to pay for a floodwall in South St. Paul and improvements to a battered women's shelter in Maplewood.
Drazkowski criticized the fund after failing to redirect the entire $50 million pot to local roads in an amendment that failed in the House on Monday.
"On paper it appears to be a blank check for the Dayton administration to write grants to projects of his liking," Drazkowski said.
Reporting from Alexandra Tempus of The Associated Press contributed to this story