Top Democrats will outline their priorities for a borrowing bill early next week to fund state infrastructure and other building projects, opening the door for debate over one of the few pieces of legislation that will require bipartisan support this session.
Gov. Mark Dayton is set to unveil the specifics of his roughly $750 million bonding bill on Monday, and the House is expected to release a proposal in the $800 million range on Tuesday. Senate Democrats support a similar target.
It’s unclear if Democrats will be able to secure Republican backing for borrowing to fund public investment. They need a handful of GOP votes to reach the 60 percent benchmark necessary to pass a bonding bill, but so far Republican leaders have waffled on whether they’ll offer any support.
There is, at least, agreement on one project in particular: state Capitol restoration. The aging building received a $44 million cash injection in last session’s $500 million bonding bill, which fell far short of the $241 million necessary to fully fund the project. A measure to cover much of the restoration narrowly failed in the House during debate over that bill.
House and Senate leaders — both Republican and Democrat — said on Friday that they support financing repairs to Minnesota’s historic Capitol building. Experts have warned lawmakers that without significant renovations soon, there could be serious problems for the structure.
“The bonding project that I want to do is the Capitol,” Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk told reporters, appealing to House Republicans to join Democrats in passing a bonding bill. “Let’s take advantage of the timing of having a governor that’s willing to take that task on, and at a very minimum, get that piece done.”
Bakk said the Senate doesn’t have a set timeline for considering a bonding bill – which first must originate in the House – but told reporters that he’d like to pass the state budget before turning to other issues like borrowing legislation.
GOP leaders in the House and Senate said their caucuses haven’t taken an official position on the Capitol restoration, but said the sentiment is there. House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt called the building a “treasure of the state of Minnesota” and said there is “broad support within [his] caucus” for the project.
Daudt also said he’d like to debate the DFL budget before considering a bonding bill.
“At the appropriate time, we’re happy to talk about a bonding bill. I think the Capitol is something we do agree on. I don’t know what other projects will be included, and we’ll be eager to see what they put forth,” Daudt said, turning to criticize the DFL’s budget proposal.
“We believe that we need to know where the Democrats’ priorities are on spending for the next two years before we talk about borrowing additional money.”
Controversy over a procedural House rule change earlier this session that left some Republicans suggesting that a bonding bill was off the table appears to have evaporated, as well.
“I have said all along we’re not going to hold a bonding bill hostage. But I will tell you that this rule has very much angered my members,” Daudt said in February, according to the Pioneer Press. “I don’t want to play politics with a bonding bill. I want to debate a bonding bill based on its merits and at the appropriate time, and I think we can still do that. But my members are very angry about this rule.”