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Capital investment bill fails to garner enough House votes to pass

By Mike Cook
Rep. Dean Urdahl, from left, Rep. Bob Dettmer and Rep. Duane Quam check the vote register after the omnibus capital investment bill failed to get the three-fifths majority needed to pass May 17. Photo by Paul Battaglia

The Legislature may go two straight years without a bonding bill.

That was the warning from Rep. Dean Urdahl (R-Grove City), just before the House voted down an $800 million proposal.

The vote was 70-62 for a delete-all amendment to HF575; however, by law, capital investment bills need three-fifths approval of each body — 81 votes in the House — to pass. Republicans hold a 77-57 seat advantage.

“Why do we bond? To meet our responsibility to address the infrastructure needs of our state,” said Urdahl, the bill sponsor and chair of the House Capital Investment Committee. “This bill primarily addresses those needs.”

Odd-numbered years are traditionally focused on establishing a state budget with a smaller bonding bill; even-numbered years are often centered on a large capital investment plan. However, a chaotic finish to the 2016 session resulted in no bill. Capital investment was also part of the unsuccessful special session discussion over the final seven months of 2016.

“This is a year where we are making up for a bill that we kind of did last year, but not quite,” Urdahl said, noting the only new projects in this year’s bill are for emergency needs.

Rep. Alice Hausman speaks against the proposed bonding bill on the House floor before the final vote May 17. Photo by Andrew VonBank

Rep. Alice Hausman (DFL-St. Paul) was the lone DFL member to speak against the bill.

“We have not yet included all that was in last year’s bill, so the backlog is growing,” she said. “… It needs a bit more work.” For example, she said about one-third of capital investment bills traditionally go for higher education, whereas this bill is at about 10 percent. She also noted the bill is not regionally balanced.

Hausman suggests members from both parties in both bodies and governor’s staff put together a final product before session ends. “We look forward to further work to have a wonderful package that at the end of the day is good for the state,” she said.

Gov. Mark Dayton unveiled a $1.5 billion proposal in January. Sponsored by Sen. David Senjem (R-Rochester),  SF210, includes $973 million in general-obligation bonding and $201.9 million in General Fund spending.

“Do you really think that if we send them a bill, it’ll come back smaller?” Urdahl asked members. “Do you really think projects important to you can’t be added?”

Urdahl cannot guarantee another bonding bill would be put forth before members must constitutionally adjourn by midnight Monday.

“It is a little bit disconcerting to me to realize that there are members here who are prepared to vote against projects that are vital to their district,” he said. “I implore you to consider what you’re doing and why. We can’t say that we voted ‘no’ on local projects because $800 million isn’t enough money.”

Among the more high-profile projects in the House bill are:

  • $70.26 million for renovation and expansion at the state security hospital in St. Peter;
  • $69.62 million for rail grade separation crossings in Coon Rapids, Moorhead and Red Wing on crude oil rail corridors;
  • $59 million for local bridge replacement;
  • $56.25 million for the local road improvement program;
  • $55 million in higher education asset preservation ($30 million for the University of Minnesota and $25 million for Minnesota State);
  • $55 million in water infrastructure ($40 million for wastewater and $15 million for drinking water);
  • $25.4 million for contaminated sediment management actions to restore water quality in the St. Louis River Area of Concern;
  • $15 million for Department of Natural Resources asset preservation;
  • $11.55 million for four flood hazard mitigations; and
  • $10 million for public housing rehabilitation.

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