Senate bill blocks Rondo project money

An aerial view of Interstate 94 in St. Paul
Interstate 94 runs through the Rondo neighborhood with a view toward St. Paul Monday, March 14, 2022 in St. Paul, Minn.
Derek Montgomery for MPR News

There was a dustup in the Senate Finance committee Wednesday over a provision in the transportation omnibus bill that directs the Transportation Department not to spend any money for study, planning, preliminary engineering, final design, or construction for the ReConnect Rondo project. 

That’s despite a tax bill agreement last year to provide $6.2 million to do preliminary planning for the project, which is intended to rectify some of the damage done to the predominantly Black Rondo neighborhood of St. Paul when I-94 was routed through the area decades ago.

Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, tried to remove the language from the bill. Bill sponsor Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, said he opposes the funding because he believes the Reconnect Rondo project has nothing to do with transportation, and he was not part of last year’s agreement.

“I think this is incredibly troubling,” said Sen. Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury. “The fact is caucus leaders made this agreement last year. The fact that this was in there means there was something in there your leaders wanted. This is dangerous territory. This bill walks back on an agreement that was made.”

The only Black member of the committee, Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, DFL-Minneapolis, noted that the money was designed to help a Black neighborhood. “We’re only calling back the project that affects the community that we believe is powerless. So it’s okay to betray your word with them because they’re powerless. They mean nothing to us,” Champion said. “I see that as a betrayal of our commitment. When you step on the very people who have always been stepped on and find justifications in order to justify it, to me, that is a character flaw.”

Committee chair Sen. Julie Rosen, R- Fairmont, suggested Champion went too far. “That was a little rough,” Rosen said. “That was rough.” Champion apologized to Newman, and the committee took a short break. When they returned they voted 6-3 to reject Marty’s amendment.

The bill is now headed to the Senate floor. 

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