This year's legislative session began with Gov. Mark Dayton imploring legislators to move fast on holdover items from last year, including a construction borrowing package that got tangled up in a late frenzy.
But the Legislature hasn't shared Dayton's urgency.
As the session reaches the spring recess — leaving about a month left when lawmakers return — the bonding bill is one of the biggest question marks.
Last year, a bonding plan emerged in the last hours of the last day of the session. It failed to reach the governor's desk after a volley between the House and Senate caused lawmakers to run out of time.
So, on the second day of this year's session, Dayton released his list of more than 240 projects. The DFLer sought $1.5 billion through a bond sale to make them happen. He said fast action could mean a share of them would get started in the spring.
Three months later, Dayton is annoyed by the lack of progress.
"This bill is already overdue. It should have passed already," he told MPR News in an interview Wednesday. "These projects should be underway in this construction season."
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Dayton's office has been sent tailored project lists to local newspapers to try to build political pressure.
"When legislators hear from their constituents in their own districts that's a lot more influential than my pleas or cajoling," he said. "They're used to me."
A $972 million bill in the Republican-led Senate stands ready for a floor vote at any time. It's largely a replica of the package that got hung up last May.
But the Minnesota Constitution requires bills that involve state debt to originate in the House, also controlled by Republicans.
So, where's that bill?
"Well, I've got a spreadsheet that I take out of my drawer every now and then," said Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, who chairs the House Capital Investment Committee. Urdahl said he's been waiting for the 11 budget bills to make their way through the House, a process that should be done Friday.
He's also waiting for the go-ahead from his leadership before releasing details. In the meantime, Urdahl said he's consulting with the main House Democrat on the bonding committee to avoid complications later.
"I certainly want a bill to see a bonding bill get done. I think a bonding bill needs to get done," Urdahl said. "We have great needs in this state, our infrastructure is crumbling. We need to do this bill and not get farther behind."
Urdahl said his bill will be smaller than the Senate version, perhaps in the ballpark of $800 million. He wouldn't give a precise number.
"I think it will be part of the negotiations and one piece in a bigger puzzle," said House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Zimmerman.
Senate Capital Investment Committee Chairman David Senjem, R-Rochester, said he doesn't want to wait until the last minute. That's one reason he resurrected last year's bill to cut out some of the inevitable wrangling.
It has money for college laboratories, flood mitigation projects, prison upgrades and more.
"I just look at the bill we have before us as cleaning the deck, sweeping the deck clean from the standpoint of taking care of last year's business and to some extent 2015 business, where we had a relatively small bill — about $200 million," Senjem said.
He points out that the 2016 bill garnered lots of votes from both parties. That's essential because bonding bills require three-fifths majorities to pass — meaning they must get Democratic and Republican votes in both chambers.
Sen. Sandy Pappas of St. Paul, the lead Democrat on Senjem's committee, said she's nervous about the bonding bill again getting caught up in the bigger budget fight. She says it's too important to let that happen.
"This is not a dessert for us. Bonding bills are the meat and potatoes," she said. "It's the infrastructure. It's water. It's roads. It's transit. It's infrastructure for buildings for MnSCU and for the University of Minnesota."
With about a month to go in the session, Pappas said if there are stark differences between the House, Senate and Dayton, she'd rather see those come to a head sooner.
"If it falls apart earlier in session, you have time to fix it," she said. "But not when it falls apart the last night of session."