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Minnesota Legislature

Bonding division members given $845 million target as they begin deliberations

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On Monday, House DFL leaders proposed their 2020-21 budget targets. Those included room for a $1.6 billion package of capital investments in 2019.

On Thursday, members of the House Capital Investment Division were given a budget target of about half that.

Rep. Mary Murphy (DFL-Hermantown), the division chair, gave members a spending cap of $845 million as they consider the dozens of projects that have been proposed over the last few weeks for inclusion in the 2019 bonding bill.

But, as was apparent during Thursday’s meeting, the final shape and size of that bill is still very much up in the air, as are its chances for eventual approval on the House Floor.

This year’s bonding requests have ranged from hundreds of millions of dollars to preserve and replace assets at the state’s colleges and universities, to $50,000 for an environmental learning center in Lakeville.

Murphy presented members a handout during the hearing listing those projects and asked them to spend the weekend choosing those they would most like included in the bill. She told them she wanted to learn more about their priorities and has made no decisions.

“I’m giving you a target also, and it’s $845 million – up to $845 million,” Murphy said, adding that her target differed from the $1.6 billion leadership target to allow for flexibility as the division works to finalize the bonding bill before the third committee deadline April 12.

She said the lower amount would leave money for debt service, allow for a reserve fund and also provide options if “people who have higher positions than I” tell her something else must be included.

“I want to have a little walking-around money,” Murphy said. “… I don’t want us to get tied into particular amounts of money at this time because this is our first try. Even I haven’t picked 10 absolute projects that have to be in [the bill] no matter what. “

But Rep. Dean Urdahl (R-Grove City), the division’s Republican lead and past capital investment chair, told Murphy her target was likely still too high.    

“I’m sure that [$845 million] is going to be too rich for most, if not all, of our caucus right now,” Urdahl said. ”I committed early on that I would work with you, and work with the majority, to get a bill that would get 81 votes, and that is still my goal.”

Urdahl said there are still members of the Republican caucus questioning the need for a 2019 bonding bill, telling division members $260 million is the typical size of any bonding bill in the first year of a fiscal biennium, which has historically not been a bonding year.

“My desire is to help you do this,” Urdahl said. “But I know it’s going to be a much different number when we come to some type of conclusion.”

Rep. Paul Torkelson (R-Hanska) said Republican division members would need to talk about whether they should participate in Murphy’s project-ranking process, adding that action on bonding in the Senate this year has been “extremely limited” with no hearings held.

“While I have the utmost respect for you and your work … we on our side of the aisle are in a rather delicate position, I’m sure you understand that,” Torkelson said. “Because if we actively take part in assembling a large bill that our caucus has no position on, we are, in a way, endorsing the governor’s position that we really don’t endorse. A large bonding bill this year is not something that we feel is appropriate.”

Murphy said members had heard from people asking for the state’s assistance, and it was up to them to make “serious decisions” about projects that would help Minnesotans in their housing, communities and schools, “in every part of their lives and every part of Minnesota. And we have to deliver something to them – or not, if that is the choice.”

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