Senate Democrats unveiled a $1.5 billion package of bonding proposals on Monday, prioritizing local transportation projects, construction needs at college campuses across the state, clean water and public safety.
The proposal is larger than Gov. Mark Dayton’s $1.4 billion bonding bill released in January, and more than double the size of the $600 million bonding bill House Republicans want, setting up a clash between the two parties on the total size of a capital projects package this year. Legislators tend to pass larger bonding bills to take care of the state’s infrastructure in even-numbered years, but nothing’s certain in 2016, a historically short session that will be followed by a contentious election season.
DFL Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, chairman of the Senate’s Capital Investment Committee, said they vetted more than 500 proposals worth $5 billion in narrowing down their package of bonding projects, which Democrats estimate will create 39,000 jobs. The size of the bill, he said, reflects the major infrastructure care needs across Minnesota, which will only get worse if they state doesn’t keep up.
“We have tried to move a fairly sizable bill, but one that we can certainly justify,” Stumpf said Monday morning has he presented his bill in committee. “I’d describe it as a Ford or a Chevrolet; it’s not a Cadillac.”
Among the major items in the bill:
- $377 million for local transportation projects
- $197 million for wastewater infrastructure and other clean water projects across the state
- $160 million for projects on University of Minnesota campuses
- $173 million for Minnesota State Colleges and Universities campuses
- $138 million for health and human services, including the full $70 million request to complete construction at the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter
- $52 million for upgrades at state prisons, including $20 million in asset preservation
- $42 million for construction and repairs and local police stations, fire halls and training centers
The largest amount in the Senate bonding bill is reserved for road repairs, railroads, airports and bridges in towns across the state. Republicans in the House have said they want to use much of their $600 million proposal for transportation projects as well, especially if the two parties can’t reach a budget deal on other new transportation funding this session.
But there’s no money in the Senate bill for the state’s $135 million share of the controversial Southwest Light Rail line. Last week, seven DFL senators sent a letter to leadership threatening to withhold their vote from a final bonding bill if it does not include funding for the project, or if the project doesn’t get funding in another budget bill. Currently, the Senate’s transportation bill raises the metro-area sales tax to pay for transit projects, but Republicans have pushed back on spending any money on light rail this year.
The bill aligns closely with Dayton’s proposal, but adds more money to for local projects in legislator districts. Due to the requirement that bonding bills pass with majorities of at least 60 percent, legislators in both chambers are sensitive to making sure the projects included are geographically balanced and have bipartisan support.
Dayton and Senate Democrats have criticized Republicans for not yet releasing their final list of desired bonding projects even though there are just three weeks left until session adjourns. House Republican Speaker Kurt Daudt said the bonding bill should wait until after legislators “eat their vegetables,” or work out a deal on how to spend the $900 million budget surplus.
“House Republicans will prioritize how we allocate existing tax dollars — for transportation and tax relief — before turning to borrowing,” Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, chair of the House Capital Investment Committee, said in a statement. “I have concerns that the Senate DFL package far exceeds the amount Minnesotans have deemed financially reasonable in past bienniums. I am also disappointed to hear recent news that Democrat Senators will block a bonding bill without money for Southwest Light Rail. House Republicans will continue to push for a final package that respects taxpayers and meets Minnesota’s infrastructure needs.”
Senator DFLers want both the House and Senate bonding bills to head to a conference committee, where they will have public vetting and testimony. “If you hear it’s all kind of fluff, the bonding process is the cherry on top of the dessert,” Stumpf said. “That’s not true.”
To see a full list of projects, go here.