The drought is over.
Minnesota lawmakers on Monday passed a $2.58 billion package of infrastructure projects, snapping a nearly three-year period without what’s known as a “bonding” bill.
The package was due to a last-minute deal between the DFL majority and minority Republicans to spend an extra $300 million on a nursing industry in crisis. That agreement was necessary to attract enough GOP votes for a bonding bill because government borrowing through general obligation bonds needs a 60% vote in the House and Senate. GOP lawmakers in the Senate had used that supermajority requirement in March to reject a bonding bill to pressure DFL lawmakers to approve more tax cuts. In the end, the GOP got help for the senior care system instead.
DFL legislators have thrown around the word “historic” for quite a lot of their bills this year. But two infrastructure bills definitely were. Combined, they shattered a record for the biggest capital investment package, according to Minnesota Management and Budget, topping a $1.87 billion bonding bill passed in 2020.
The size was due in part to Minnesota’s unprecedented $17.5 billion surplus. But it was also because there was no bonding bill in the last two-year budget cycle, when a politically divided government couldn’t agree on infrastructure legislation. That was the first time since at least 1983 the Legislature failed to pass a bonding bill in a biennium.
House Speaker Melissa Hortman described this year’s package as “three years of bonding in one.”
The package was made up of a $1.5 billion bonding bill and a $1.1 billion cash bill. Together, they had:
- More than $317 million for upgrades to college buildings in the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State systems
- $247 million for the Department of Natural Resources to use on things like parks, trails, boat docks and building upgrades
- About $9 million for security upgrades at the State Capitol
- Upgrades at military readiness centers and a host of police and fire stations
- $77.7 million to fund an overhaul of a veterans home in Hastings
- $402 million for the Minnesota Department of Transportation, mainly for use on road and bridge improvements
- More than $501 million for water infrastructure projects
- More than $443 million for economic development initiatives, much of which is earmarked for capital investment helping nonprofits in the Twin Cities metro aimed at helping people of color
- Money for ski hills, ice rinks, theaters, playgrounds, museums, sports centers, wellness centers, and more
State lawmakers did not model transparency in the final chapter of the bonding saga. While many of the projects were in earlier, failed proposals at the Legislature, many others were released to the public minutes before a final vote in the Senate. The House voted on the package shortly after the Senate did.
Democrats and most Republicans hailed the final product as a victory. The DFL had wanted a huge capital investment package all along, but threatened to pass a much smaller cash bill that wouldn’t need GOP votes during negotiations. That legislation was tilted toward projects in the Twin Cities metro area.
Some GOP lawmakers criticized the compromise infrastructure package for borrowing money when lawmakers had a large cash surplus. And those Republicans said cash for any capital investment should have been focused on critical government functions like wastewater treatment.
But Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson, R-East Grand Forks, said the deal should be celebrated. “We took a lot of heat on not passing the bill out of the Senate” in March, Johnson said during floor debate Monday on the infrastructure bills. “But I think the end product, the resulting deal, the package that we got, is something that we can be proud of. It helps nursing homes, it takes care of infrastructure.”
Below is the full list of projects funded by the bonding bill, and the cash bill: