Democrats in the Minnesota Senate released a nearly $1.2 billion package of public construction projects today that would be funded with a combination of borrowing and cash from the budget surplus.
Most of the bonding projects are on college campuses throughout the state. Regional civic centers in Mankato, Rochester and St. Cloud, which didn't make the cut in previous bills, receive another chance. The list also includes improvements to the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter and a section of the Lewis and Clark water pipeline project in southwestern Minnesota. The final $126 million needed for the state Capitol renovation is part of the separate cash measure.
The release of the Senate bonding proposal, which must compete with a House version and a plan by Gov. Mark Dayton, comes with just two weeks left for lawmakers to finish their work. State Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, the chair of the Senate Capital Investment Committee, blamed the delay on a backlog of needs and a limited amount of available funding. Stumpf said the list of projects could have exceeded $3 billion.
"Obviously that's not possible for us to do" said Stumpf, DFL-Plummer. "We were working within certain restraints. But it is a reflection of what's happening around the state and in our communities."
One of the restraints for Democrats was their pre-session agreement with Republicans to cap the level of borrowing this session to $846 million. To augment the list of project, Democrats propose using a cash allocation of $200 million from the budget surplus.
Stumpf said he thinks the overall proposal strikes a "delicate balance."
"What we tried to do here is to identify those areas that really are key for economic development, for housing, for infrastructure," he said. "And that really applied to all the different areas that we deal with."
Democrats need some Republican votes to reach the three-fifths super majority required to pass a bonding bill. They can pass the cash allocation with a simple majority, which won't require GOP support.
State Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester said he's concerned that the proposal favors local projects over some important statewide needs. Still, Senjem said he probably will vote for the bill and thinks other Senate Republicans will join him.
"We need two Republicans, and my guess is there's probably eight to 10 that have something of keen local interest in this bill," Senjem said. "So, it will be difficult to not put some Republican votes on it. If not necessarily impossible, I think it will be difficult."
But other Republicans are drawing a sharper line in the sand. Some of them held a news conference to criticize the DFL approach to bonding, and highlight what they want to see in the final bill. State Rep. Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, said the $846 million bill needs different priorities.
"Shouldn't we be able to start with those critical needs first? Let's fund Lewis and Clark first. Let's fund our roads first. Let's fund our bridges first," Dean said. "Then with the money that's left over -- here you can see over $217 million -- we can talk about nice projects and things that are probably things that would be nice to have, and would perhaps we could fit within the budget of this bill."
In the House, Democrats need eight Republican votes to pass a bonding bill.
State Rep. Alice Hausman, chair of the House Capital Investment Committee, said she doesn't think those votes are there yet. Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, said Republicans should be negotiating with Democrats rather than holding news conferences and questioning priorities.
"It always easy to believe our project is the most important and everybody else's is frivolous, and that doesn't really help us at this stage in the conversation," she said.
Hausman's bonding and cash bills are scheduled for a hearing Tuesday in the House Ways and Means Committee, with a significant change expected. Newly posted amendments show that Hausman intends to move the Capitol renovation from the cash bill to the bonding bill and fund the project in full at $126 million. The hearing would be the last stop before a floor vote.