Bonding bill in doubt this sessionby Tim Pugmire, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — State lawmakers are heading home for a week-long break with a bonding bill still unresolved -- and possibly in doubt -- for the 2012 session.
With adjournment likely within the next few weeks, Republicans leaders in the House and Senate have not yet taken votes on their competing proposals for public works construction projects.
House Republicans proposed their two-bill bonding plan two and a half weeks ago. Both bills cleared the necessary committees and are awaiting floor action.
One borrows $220 million for the full renovation of the State Capitol building. The other bill covers $280 million worth of other public works projects, including the repair of many college campus buildings.
Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker, the chair of the House Capital Investment Committee, said he thinks there's enough support to pass both bills with the required super-majority of 81 votes, if Democrats are willing to help.
"I felt that the $280 million bill that I put together was good enough to get the votes. But not if one side or the other is going to boycott votes and wish for a bigger bill," said Howe.
The House bill is significantly smaller than the $496 million package that Senate GOP leaders unveiled last week, and far short of the $775 million plan DFL Gov. Mark Dayton proposed back in January. Neither of those plans tackle the entire state Capitol renovation.
Senate GOP Majority Leader Dave Senjem of Rochester said he's been waiting to vote on the Senate bonding bill until the House takes action on its two bonding bills, because that's where such bills must originate.
Senjem said he was a little bit uncertain about whether the House will actually vote.
"I'm hopeful that we have one. You never say for sure on anything around here," said Senjem. "But we're going to work towards passing a bonding bill, and certainly going to work with the House to do that. We'll see if we can get there."
Gov. Dayton's support of a large bonding bill is part of his strategy to put people back to work in the construction sector, but so far his fellow Democrats don't like the Republican-backed bills.
House DFL Minority Leader Paul Thissen of Minneapolis said the House version is too small, too partisan, and he's not sure there would be enough votes to pass it.
Senate DFL Minority Leader Tom Bakk of Cook said he thinks the problems the Republicans are having with the bills are symptomatic of what he views as a "do nothing" Legislature under GOP leadership.
"If you're not going to do a bonding bill, then let's just go home. I don't know what else there is to come back to," said Bakk. "But we can't seem to even get it up and get it debated. So, I'm not very optimistic that there's going to be a bonding bill coming out of this session."
Dayton said this week that he likes the House approach of using a separate bonding bill for the Capitol renovation, but he doesn't like the short list of projects in the other House bill.
"The $280 million is, I think, seriously undersized," said Dayton. "It just means that several thousand fewer Minnesotans won't be working, and urgently needed projects will be delayed another year at least."
Republican House Speaker Kurt Zellers rejects the notion that the bonding bill might be in trouble. He said the delay is the result of a busy schedule of floor votes on other bills.
House GOP Majority Leader Matt Dean offered a different explanation, suggesting that movement on the bonding bill was contingent on Gov. Dayton's willingness to bargain on other issues.
"I know a lot of our members are very, very interested in having the governor sign some reforms bills before we take up the bonding bill," said Dean. "They'd like to see some more work product out of the governor. They want to see some 'yeses' from the governor before taking up that bill."
Dayton has said it's up to GOP leaders to decide whether a bonding bill will pass.
- All Things Considered, 04/05/2012, 5:24 p.m.