Democrats in the state House and Senate said today that they have a deal on a public works bill that funds $846 million in public works projects.
But there's one big hitch: Republicans in the Legislature have not signed on, and the Democrats can't pass the bill without them.
For the past week, DFL legislative leaders have met privately with Republican leaders and individual Republican lawmakers, aiming to find the magic formula for a successful bonding bill. But those negotiations have proven fruitless.
That's why House Speaker Paul Thissen announced today that Democrats will move forward with their own plan. He's hoping that there are enough sweeteners in the bill to pick up Republican support.
"It's a bill that is at $846 million, it has all of the Republican projects that were in last year's bill, plus about $70 million more Republican projects," said Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis. "It completely honors the deal we made last year."
That deal was a compromise between Republicans and Democrats to not spend more than $1 billion total on public works projects over the two-year session. Republicans have stuck to that pledge even though Gov. Mark Dayton and Democratic leaders have pushed for a bill with a higher price-tag.
The latest proposal plan spends $120 million on higher education projects, $126 million for the renovation of the State Capitol and $22 million for the Lewis and Clark Regional Water System in southwestern Minnesota.
State Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, said she hopes eight Republicans join every Democrat in the House to vote for the bill. That would reach the three fifths majority necessary to pass a bill that commits the state to long term debt. Hausman said the House has to act on the bill by Thursday night to meet the constitutional deadline to adjourn by Monday.
"Tomorrow is the drop dead date because of all of the rules in the House and Senate," she said Wednesday. "It must pass the House tomorrow and then it has to go over to the Senate and then they have first, second and third reading. So the earliest they could pass it would be Saturday.
But those rules could be waived as long as Republicans allow the bill to be fast tracked. State Rep. Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, said Republicans aren't willing to do that just yet.
Dean said Republicans haven't been fully consulted on the bill, and won't provide the votes needed to pass it.
"They have said that they won't bring a bill to the floor without bipartisan support and this doesn't have it," Dean said of DFL leaders. "So there is no agreement at this point. We're hoping that they will bring another bill."
Dean said he wants money in the bill to go to roads and bridges and $63 million for the Lewis and Clark project - not the $22 million Democrats have proposed for it.
Among the Republicans advocating for the project is state Rep. Joe Schomacker of Luverne. Democrats are looking at Schomacker as someone who won't be able to vote against the bill, but Schomacker isn't committing his support just yet.
"I think we're just getting started in the negotiating process, and so I'm looking forward to seeing what moves on from here," he said. "At this point it's a little insulting that they think $22 million is what will get us covered for this year."
DFL legislative leaders say they have removed a measure from the bill that would have banned the state from requiring sprinklers in new homes. Dayton threatened to veto the bill if the measure has been included.
State Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, said he would continue to push to pass the sprinkler provision even if it's been cut from the bonding bill.
While the House is struggling to pick up Republican support, the path to Senate passage appears to be easier. State Sen. Senator Dave Senjem said he expects strong GOP support for the bill in the Senate, where just two Republican votes are needed.
"We'll have, I'm not sure, 8 to 10 votes for it," said Senjem, R-Rochester. "Me personally and others as well. There are various projects that are important to our community, at least Mayo Civic Center in my world."
Senjem said Senate leaders may be consider putting more money for the Lewis and Clark project in another bill, possibly one that uses a chunk of the budget surplus to cut taxes. Legislators are also still trying to reach agreements on another big spending bill and one that would permit the use of medical marijuana.