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Bonding bill heads for House Floor — but could see changes

A billion-dollar bonding bill is on its way to the House Ways and Means Committee. And it’s bringing a friend, too.

On Friday, the House Capital Investment Committee approved the product of its 27 meetings: a $1.03 billion bill that contains major investments in housing, transportation and rebuilding portions of Minneapolis and St. Paul damaged in last summer’s unrest.

But the committee also approved a vehicle bill that could potentially be populated with projects more acceptable to the committee’s Republican minority, which uniformly voted against the bonding package.

First to the main bill. That would be HF337, sponsored by the committee chair, Rep. Fue Lee (DFL-Mpls), which was replaced by a delete-all amendment and further amended with technical changes and altered appropriations, then approved on an 11-8 party-line vote.

It would provide $300 million in redevelopment grants for Minneapolis and St. Paul, put another $300 million into public housing rehabilitation and emergency shelter facilities, and help fund a host of projects, from roads and bridges to rapid transit to fixing up buildings on college campuses and in state parks.

So why did all of the committee’s Republican members vote against it?

“We have made repeated requests to divide this bill, separating out the corrections,” said Rep. Dean Urdahl (R-Grove City), speaking of a section of the bill dealing with updates to previously funded projects. “We don’t want to see these linked. … Also, it has a strong metro bias at the expense of Greater Minnesota.”

Whether a bonding bill emerging from the House would encounter a Senate partner remains to be seen. The Senate Capital Investment Committee hasn’t met since early February. The House bill’s companion, SF287, sponsored by Sen. Tom Bakk (I-Cook), mostly makes changes to previously funded projects.

If it is indeed a placeholder waiting to be filled with proposals, it has a lot in common with HF506. Also sponsored by Lee, that bill could contain several compromises with Republican members by the time it’s heard in the ways and means committee. It was approved 17-2.

As for HF337, it drew raves from several DFL members.

Rep. Jay Xiong (DFL-St. Paul): “This bill is very historic, addressing many of the issues most important to our BIPOC communities.”

Rep. Rick Hansen (DFL-South St. Paul): “I want to highlight something in the bill that addresses climate change. Look at the past 20 years and this is the largest amount we’ve put into reforestation. … We need to plant a lot more trees. ... That will pay off for generations to come.”

Rep. Liz Reyer (DFL-Eagan): “The housing investment is one of the most powerful, valuable pieces of the bill, one with statewide relevance. … The public housing funding will go primarily to Greater Minnesota.”

Rep. Leon Lillie (DFL-North St. Paul): “This is a bold bill. The economy’s come around, we’re stable and we can handle this. … I’m disappointed that they’re not making any effort to meet across the street and hear about all these great projects.”

Rep. Mike Freiberg (DFL-Golden Valley): “The inflow and infiltration grants address a perennial issue. If we don’t, sewers could back up into our lakes and rivers.”

But Rep. Eric Lucero (R-Dayton) did not concur with the glowing reviews.

“I look forward to the day when the majority party puts forward a bill that will actually benefit all of Minnesota,” he said.

“It is my hope that we can get the participation of the minority caucus and put this together in ways and means,” Lee replied.

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