MN House passes transportation, state agencies funding bill

Minnesota State House representatives stood for the Pledge of Allegiance.
Minnesota State House representatives stood for the Pledge of Allegiance at the start of the legislative session in 2020.
Anthony Souffle | Star Tribune via AP 2020

The state would spend additional money on roads and bridges, veterans housing, cybersecurity and more under a wide-ranging budget bill passed Tuesday by the Minnesota House.

The vote was 70-63 and came after a lengthy debate.

The supplemental finance and policy measure combined four House bills covering the budget areas of transportation, state government, veterans/military affairs and pensions. Overall, the bill would spend $735 million from the general fund over two years.

The state government provisions include cybersecurity upgrades, protections for election workers and budget adjustments for several agencies and offices. It also designates Juneteenth and Indigenous People’s Day as state holidays.

Rep. Michael Nelson, DFL-Brooklyn Park, is the chair of the state government committee and chief author of the bill.

“Part of this bill is to help hang on to our good staff and make sure that we can recruit new people. We’ve had, like a lot of business, we’ve had issues with that this last year,” Nelson said.

The transportation provisions include the matching funds needed to leverage federal infrastructure money, the state’s share of money needed for a passenger train between the Twin Cities and Duluth and the creation of a new Traffic Safety Advisory Council.

Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, is the House transportation chair. Hornstein said it is a historic moment for infrastructure investment, thanks to federal money.

“Perhaps the single most important thing in this bill is to provide matching money, so we can access federal support for roads, bridges, transit systems, electric vehicle infrastructure, safety initiatives,” Hornstein said.

Hornstein also noted that there is an emphasis on traffic safety, which he described as a big problem.

“In this state we have an epidemic of traffic deaths, and we need to respond,” he said.

Several Republicans criticized the overall spending in the big bill as well as individual provisions.

Rep. Nolan West, R-Blaine, doesn’t like the focus of some of the transportation projects.

“We’re building all these trains. We’re investing hundreds of millions of dollars in all this new infrastructure that a lot of people don’t even want, that won’t have a good return on the investment,” West said.

The Republican-controlled Senate is expected to vote next week on a competing version of the legislation. A conference committee will then have to try to reach a compromise.

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