Prospects for a bonding bill dimmed Wednesday, when Democrats in the Minnesota Senate added a cash allocation to their tax bill for one of the session's key bonding project proposals -- the renovation of the State Capitol Building.
Gov. Mark Dayton put $109 million for the Capitol renovation front and center in his $750 million bonding bill proposal earlier this month. House Democrats did the same in their $800 million borrowing package for public construction.
Instead, state Sen. Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope, successfully amended the Senate tax bill to make a $30 million cash commitment to the Capitol project, along with another $173 million in the following two-year budget cycle.
"We have been meeting and discussing this, and we believe this is the right thing to do at the right time," she said.
Rest also included $3 million to begin the planning and design of a new office building that could accommodate lawmakers during and after the Capitol renovation.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk said he didn't want the project to get caught up in the politics of a bonding bill, which would need some Republican votes in both chambers to pass.
"I really hope that this puts the Capitol at a different level, at a priority for Minnesotans, that people aren't going to try to play political posturing to leverage for something else," said Bakk, DFL-Cook.
Bakk said using cash rather than borrowing will save Minnesota taxpayers money.
That prompted harsh words from state Rep. Alice Hausman, chair of the House Capitol Investment Committee. She strongly disagreed with the Senate approach.
"Really? In a year like this, to use cash for long-term debt? I mean that's like irresponsible, when we should be doing education and health care," said Hausman, DFL-St. Paul. "That just boggles the mind that they would use cash in that way. I'm just stunned."
Hausman said she's grown increasingly frustrated with this session's bonding bill work and the Senate's lack of progress on a bill. At this point in the session, she said, there should be bonding bill discussions underway with the governor, House and Senate.
"The key need is basic infrastructure for the economy, for higher education, for wastewater infrastructure, for roads and bridges."
But Hausman said no such discussions have taken place. She also takes issue with the Senate's contention that the Capital renovation is more important than all the other public works projects around the state that would be funded in a bonding bill.
"It may be a very important project; it is not the key need," Hausman said. "The key need is basic infrastructure for the economy, for higher education, for wastewater infrastructure, for roads and bridges. That's what keeps the economy humming, not a renovated Capitol."
There's no Senate bonding bill proposal, but budget committees have held hearings on many of the proposed projects. Bakk stressed that the Senate can't consider a bonding bill until it receives one from the House, and he's not sure that will happen.
"I don't know if the House can put the votes together to send a bonding bill over, and if they cannot, then certainly the Senate is right," Bakk said. "The Capitol renovations will go forward with the provisions in the Senate tax bill."
Bakk's coolness toward a bonding bill is just fine with the top Republican in the Senate. Minority Leader David Hann said he agrees with Bakk and the majority on this one.
"I don't think we should do a bonding bill this year," said Hann, R-Eden Prairie. "I think this is the year we should focus on the budget, try to get that dealt with and not get the budget issues wrapped up in the politics of a bonding bill, which can be complicated. So, let's get the budget done this year and look at bonding next year."
House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said he still looks forward to talking to Senate leaders about a bonding bill and the Capitol renovation.
Dayton's office did not respond to requests for comment.
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