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House passes what supporters call a ‘robust’ capital investment bill

Rep. Dean Urdahl, chair of the House Capital Investment Committee, describes provisions of HF4404, the bonding bill, during opening remarks May 14. The bill was passed 84-39. Photo by Paul Battaglia

Just enough supporters believe the infrastructure-heavy capital investment proposal has its priorities in the right place.

HF4404 was passed 84-39 by the House Monday. By law, a three-fifths majority — 81 votes — is needed for a bonding bill to pass.

Sponsored by Rep. Dean Urdahl (R-Grove City), the bill now goes to the Senate where Sen. David Senjem (R-Rochester) is the sponsor. A conference committee is expected to work out the differences.

The total capital investment bill checks in at more than $1.2 billion, of which $825 million would be in general obligation bonding. It also includes more than $266 million in trunk highway bonds, $62 million in user-financing in conjunction with state dollars and $50 million for affordable housing. (See the spreadsheet)

“We did a very good job of writing this bill within the confines of $825 million, and that’s about the average amount for an even-numbered bonding year,” Urdahl said. “The bill is fair and balanced geographically and politically.”

“It’s a good bill and I think you should give it a shot,” said Rep. Leon Lillie (DFL-North St. Paul).

Traditionally, the second year of a biennium is focused on capital investment; however, a nearly billion-dollar package was enacted last session. No bill was passed in 2016.

Gov. Mark Dayton put forth a $1.5 billion plan in January.

Urdahl said 31 percent of the bill is transportation-related thanks to the addition of trunk highway bonds, 30 percent is asset preservation and 13 percent water and conservation.

“Right now, interest rates are on the rise, costs of money is going to be more expensive next year than it is right now. It behooves us to have a robust bonding bill and that’s what we have before us today,” said Rep. Mark Uglem (R-Champlin). “The priorities are there, taking care of what we own. You would do that with your own home and that’s what this bill does. It also helps the environment with clean water programs, it helps many other facilities throughout the state.”

The 2018 proposal includes $153 million for water and conservation projects — including $30 million for wastewater projects, $25 million to improve drinking water and $20 million to match federal grants for qualified water improvement projects.

School safety grants are funded in the bill at $25 million.

Road and transportation infrastructure is funded to the tune of $120 million, including $91.2 million “for construction and reconstruction of local roads with statewide or regional significance … or for grants to counties to assist in paying the costs of rural road safety capital improvement projects on county state-aid highways.”

However, Rep. Alice Hausman (DFL-St. Paul) noted the bill contains no money for transit.

“In cities and states, including those governed by Republican mayor and governors, they’re all moving ahead of us,” she said. “… The lack of even arterial bus rapid transit in this bill is something that the business community knows will eventually hurt us.”

Rep. Jeremy Munson (R-Lake Crystal) voted against the bill, citing fiscal irresponsibility.

“This is taking what’s left of our budget and trying to go out and find a credit card and get the maximum extended credit we can on our credit card to kick this can down the road,” he said. “We will never be able to make the hard decisions that we need to make if we still bond for a billion dollars or more.”


Veterans’ homes funding added

An amendment successfully offered by Rep. Matt Grossell (R-Clearbrook) and amended by House Minority Leader Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Park) would use $41 million of excess reserves from the U.S. Bank Stadium reserve account to construct veterans homes in Bemidji, Montevideo and Preston.

“This is long overdue for a part of our population who were willing to give a part of their lives so we can enjoy the freedom and rights we enjoy today,” Grossell said.

A similar provision is in the omnibus state government finance bill.

“This provides the full amount of funding to make these veterans homes a reality,” Hortman said. “… This would get the whole job done so we can get the federal match and do the homes.”

Rep. Tim Miller (R-Prinsburg) said it’s about doing what’s right.

“We funded a home for the Minnesota Vikings for about a billion dollars and there’s some remaining funds left over. Now that we’ve funded the Minnesota Vikings it’s time we fund homes for our veterans as well.”

Other proposed spending includes:

  • $35 million for Rural Finance Authority to, in part, help beginning farmers and restructure other farm loans;
  • $30 million for a new visitor’s center at Fort Snelling;
  • $25.1 million for regional mental health crisis center grants;
  • $20 million for Department of Corrections asset preservation;
  • $20 million for flood hazard mitigation;
  • $15 million for the Upper Harbor Terminal Redevelopment in Minneapolis;
  • $10 million for Reinvest in Minnesota Reserve Program;
  • $10 million for regional parks and trails;
  • $10 million in asset preservation at the Minnesota Zoo;
  • $10 million for Capitol Complex security upgrades; and
  • $6 million in port development assistance.

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