House Democrats are scrambling to get critical Republican support the day before a vote on an $846 million bonding bill — a final 2014 session piece yet to pass.
Construction borrowing bills need a 60 percent threshold to pass, but House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt said his caucus is not yet willing to put up the eight GOP votes needed until Democrats put more money into the Lewis and Clark water pipeline in the southwestern part of the state, among other projects. House and Senate Democrats reached a final agreement on a list of bonding projects Wednesday.
“Apparently the House and Senate DFL went in some back room and cut a deal between themselves but did not include us in that process,” Daudt said. “Obviously we want to pass a bonding bill that everybody can agree to, but at this point we are not there yet.”
Legislators are required to adjourn by May 19. House Capital Investment Committee chair Alice Hausman said time is running short. “It has to be tomorrow,” she said. “We are at the zero hour now; there is no more time.”
The final bonding bill provides $22 million for the water pipeline project, which is stalled after federal funding dried up. Republicans say nearly $70 million is needed to finish the critical infrastructure project.
“There are a lot of things in the bill that, frankly, we think are of a lot lower priority than things like Lewis and Clark,” Daudt said, “Snow-making equipment and theaters and these sorts of things.”
Democrats are working under an agreement made between the four caucus leaders last year to only bond for $1 billion this biennium — $150 million last year and roughly $850 million this year. They have proposed spending an additional $200 million from the surplus to fund additional projects, but that bill doesn’t need GOP votes to pass.
Daudt claims Democrats are working around that agreement by funding a House priority — $51.5 million for a planetarium and reconstruction at the University of Minnesota’s Bell Museum of Natural History. DFLers would take that project out of the construction bill — freeing up $51.5 million in bonding under the cap — and allow the university to bond for the project while the state repays the debt.
DFL House Speaker Paul Thissen said that is not going back on the arrangement, adding Republicans have been included in the discussions all along. He added that the latest version of the bonding bill goes “above and beyond” for Republicans, funding $80 million more in GOP projects than a proposal that was debated last year.
“That bill is a bill that they should provide the votes on if [Minority Leader Kurt Daudt] is going to hold his word,” Thissen said. “And if he breaks his word and the bonding bill goes down, it’s on him.”
Other major projects will get funding in the bonding bill, including $126 million to complete the restoration of the state Capitol building, $240 million for higher education projects on the Univeristy of Minnesota and MNSCU campuses and $100 million for housing projects. The proposal includes several key priorities for Gov. Mark Dayton, including civic center funding for Rochester, Mankato and St. Cloud, $56 million for upgrades for the St. Peter Security Hospital and $7 million for the Minnesota Sex Offender Program in Moose Lake (go here for a full list of projects).
Lawmakers took out a provision that overturned a requirement for fire sprinklers in all new larger homes. Dayton threatened to veto the bill if the proposal was included.
The cash bill will mostly include local road and bridge projects, including many for Republicans, Thissen noted.
“I thought that was the deal — a handshake deal next year we will deliver the votes if it’s this size and all our stuff is in. Not only is all their stuff in, there’s more,” Hausman said. “Talk about breaking a deal? This is such hypocrisy because they want more.”
Thissen and Daudt are meeting Wednesday afternoon to try and work out their differences before Thursday’s vote. Despite contentious negotiations, both anticipate there will ultimately be a bonding deal struck yet this session. The House has to pass the bill before sending it to the Senate for a vote.
“There should be a bonding bill this year,” Thissen said. “Quite frankly there’s way more than 81 people in this body that want and need a bonding bill to get done.”