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Bonding bill that tops $1 billion moves ahead — but doubts over its path forward remain

Members of the House Capital Investment Division make final comments as the division approves HF2529, the omnibus capital investment finance bill, April 11. Photo by Paul Battaglia

DFL members of the House Capital Investment Division believe now is the time to authorize a large-scale funding package for capital improvement projects around the state. Republican members disagree.

Those philosophies were reflected in a party-line voice vote Thursday as the division approved the omnibus capital investment finance bill and referred it to the House Ways and Means Committee.

Rep. Mary Murphy (DFL-Hermantown), the division chair, was joined by her DFL colleagues in voting for HF2529, as amended, the $1.5 billion bonding bill that would fund road, bridge, higher education and many other capital projects around the state.

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Murphy said she is proud to bring the bill to the people of Minnesota, saying it would help connect them through the transportation improvements it seeks, and help the state maintain buildings and other assets it already owns.

“This is truly a one Minnesota bill,” Murphy said. “It reaches all corners of the state.”

But several Republican division members reiterated their belief that the bill is too large for what has traditionally been a non-bonding year.

Rep. Dean Urdahl (R-Grove City) said he would like the proposed projects to receive a more thorough vetting by division members once session ends, followed by a larger bonding bill next session.

“I don’t think it’s any secret that the House Republican Caucus has some problems with this bill,” Urdahl said. “…We did hear a lot of projects, but it was kind of like speed-dating.” 

Rep. Nels Pierson (R-Stewartville) is concerned that approving a “robust” bill during a year when the Legislature is focused on reaching a budget agreement, would set a bad precedent and complicate future budget negotiations by making bonding a major consideration as well.

“Everyone’s going to want to get to the starting line during the budget year, and I think it’s an ill-placed priority during this term,” Pierson said.

However, DFL division members believe that with interest rates near historic lows, the state’s good credit rating and its capacity to handle additional debt, waiting is unwise and likely more expensive.

Rep. Rick Hansen (DFL-South St. Paul) said the term “public works” is probably a better way to describe what the division does, because capital investments in public projects create jobs and boost the economy.

“I think this is a good public works bill that I’ll be proud to be voting for,” Hansen said.

Rep. Jack Considine Jr. (DFL-Mankato) said needs around the state are real and lawmakers should act.

”I don’t think any of us would let our homes deteriorate if we had the ability to get them fixed,” Considine said.

Urdahl expressed doubt HF2529, which has no Senate companion, could become law at its current size, but pledged to work with Murphy to get a smaller bill passed after leaders in the House and Senate come to an agreement on a fiscal target that works in both bodies.

Murphy has repeatedly said she’s willing to work with others through the process.

“I think it is something that, as we move on, can only get better,” Murphy said. “But it is a very good start.”

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