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Lawmakers pass bonding bill to close out special session

By Mike Cook
Rep. Dean Urdahl presents the bonding bill on the House Floor May 26. Photo by Andrew VonBank

With all other omnibus budget bills agreed to, the House wrapped up the special session early Friday morning by agreeing to put nearly $1 billion on the state’s credit card.

Sponsored by Rep. Dean Urdahl (R-Grove City), HF5, as amended, calls for $987.9 million in general-obligation bonding for public works projects across the state.

“We have a pretty darn good bill,” said Urdahl, chair of the House Capital Investment Committee. “I’d call it great, but I am from Minnesota.”

Passed 119-11 by the House, the omnibus capital investment bill was quickly passed 60-2 by the Senate and is headed to the governor.

“It’s heavy on infrastructure,” Urdahl said. “I think it addresses many of the important needs of the State of Minnesota.” Roughly a quarter of the bill is focused on transportation.

“We improved this bill at every stage,” said Rep. Alice Hausman (DFL-St. Paul), the DFL lead on the House Capital Investment Committee. “I have a particular affection for the part of the bill that provides $77 million for housing for those who don’t have a safe place to sleep at night. We will feel that impact all over the state.”


Better luck a second time

Friday morning marked the House’s second try at passing a capital investment bill in 2017. An $800 million bill did not receive the needed 81 votes — it got 70 — when put to a vote May 17. By law, capital investment bills need three-fifths approval of each body to pass. Republicans hold a 77-57 seat advantage in the House.

Gov. Mark Dayton unveiled a $1.5 billion proposal in January, and Sen. David Senjem (R-Rochester) sponsored a $973 million plan that did not receive a Senate vote. The bill approved May 3 by the House Capital Investment Committee totaled $600 million.

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.

A chaotic finish to the 2016 session, however, resulted in no bill. Capital investment was also part of the unsuccessful special session discussion over the final seven months of 2016.

Urdahl said the current version largely makes up for last year’s inaction, with many of the new projects for emergency needs.

Hausman said that higher education needs typically account for about one-third of a capital investment bill. This year's total is about 20 percent.

The University of Minnesota would receive $119.93 million, with the largest amount being $66.67 million for a health science education facility on the Minneapolis campus “to meet the needs of the Medical School and the Academic Health Center.”

More than $28.3 million in funding for a chemical sciences and advanced materials building on the Duluth campus is included in the bill, as is $20.6 million for system-wide asset preservation and $4 million for a plant growth research facility on the St. Paul campus.

Just over $92.3 million is included for the Minnesota State system, including $25 million in asset preservation.

The remainder is proposed to be spent on seven projects, including $25.3 million for the second phase of the Education Village at Winona State University, and $18.57 million to remodel Eastman Hall at St. Cloud State University “for the relocation of consolidated student health services and academic programs.”

Other projects would occur at Hibbing Community College, Minnesota State Community and Technical College, Northland Community and Technical College, and South Central College. Since 1992, the system has paid one-third of non-asset preservation capital construction.

Among the other projects included in the agreement are:

  • $116.33 million in local road improvement fund grants;
  • $71.12 million for rail grade separation crossings on crude oil rail transport corridors in Coon Rapids, Moorhead and Red Wing;
  • $70.26 million for renovation and expansion at the state security hospital in St. Peter;
  • $56.25 million for the local road improvement program;
  • $55 million in water infrastructure ($40 million for wastewater and $15 million for drinking water);
  • $31.88 million to rehabilitate the 10th Avenue bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis;
  • $25.41 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;
  • $15 million for the first phase of renovation of the seal and sea lion habitat at Como Zoo;
  • $12.1 million for the Orange Line bus rapid transit line between Burnsville and downtown Minneapolis;
  • $11.55 million for four flood hazard mitigation projects; and
  • $7.85 million for a bridge project at the Minneapolis Veteran’s Home.

Per Article 11 of the state constitution, public debt may be issued, in part, “to acquire and to better public land and buildings and other public improvements of a capital nature and to provide money to be appropriated or loaned to any agency or political subdivision of the state for such purposes.”

By issuing bonds, the state receives a certain amount of money now and pays the bond holders back over time with interest.

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