Public works bill showdown looms in Minnesota House

DFL House Speaker Paul Thissen says the House will move forward with a vote on an $846 million public works bill tomorrow regardless of whether Republicans pledge to provide the needed votes to pass the bill.

The bill provides funding for dozens of projects, including the state Capitol renovation, repairs at the University of Minnesota and the Lewis & Clark Regional Water System in Southwestern Minnesota.

Thissen said Republican Minority Leader Kurt Daudt has not signed off on the bill, even though Democrats agreed to keep the total cost of the package under a limit Republicans wanted.

“Kurt, first of all, told me last year and signed in the document, as you know, that said if we did an $846 million bill with all of the Republican projects, they’d deliver eight votes to pass the bill. So I expect that we’ll have those eight votes,” Thissen said.

The bill includes $22 million for the Lewis and Clark system, said Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, the bill's chief sponsor in the House. Republicans representing the area wanted to borrow more for the project but weren't willing to increase their agreement to keep the bill at $846 million, she added.

“You can’t do $63 million in a small bill when $126 million goes to the Capitol,” Hausman said. “But I think we’re still looking for other creative ways to fund Lewis & Clark as well.”

Democrats have also removed all controversial language from the bill, including a measure that would ban the state from requiring sprinklers in new homes, Hausman said. The sponsor of the Senate bonding bill had that language in the bill. Gov. Dayton said he would veto the bill if the Senate insisted on including it.

The Bell Museum is out of the bill, but the University of Minnesota will borrow for the project as long as the state pays the debt service, Hausman added.

Rep. Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, could not be reached for comment. But at least one Republican who has a project in the bill isn't willing to vote for it just yet.

Rep. Joe Schomacker, R-Luverne, said the GOP Caucus is going to stick together. He’s lobbying to include full funding for the Lewis & Clark project.

“I think this is a negotiation point for them,” Schomacker said. “ I know they’re saying take it or leave it, but they didn't include the Republicans in the negotiations when they put this together in the first place, so that tells me that this is just a starting point on it.”

The bonding bill is considered a key to wrapping up the legislative session in a timely manner. It’s also a complex bill to pass because it needs a majority of three fifths to pass.

DFL House leaders need every Democrat to vote for the bill along with eight Republican votes. The DFL controlled Senate needs full support from Democrats and two more GOP votes.

House and Senate Democrats are also moving forward with a separate bill that spends $200 million in cash for other public works projects.

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