Senate joins bonding debate with $825 million bill

Minnesota Senate Republicans Wednesday released an $825 million borrowing proposal for public construction projects.

The Senate bonding bill matches the size of the House Republican plan announced last week. But there are differences in the project mix. Both proposals are significantly smaller than the $1.5 billion plan that DFL Gov. Mark Dayton outlined back in January.

Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, the chair of the Senate Capital Investment Committee, called it a balanced bill.

“We put together a bill that will do the most good for Minnesota families,” Senjem said.  “There are a lot of important projects around the state, but our plan uses taxpayer dollars responsibly, on the most critical projects.”

In addition to $825 million in general obligation bonds, the Senate plan uses $224.1 million in trunk highway bonds. In total, nearly a third of the Senate plan, or $343 million, goes toward roads and bridges.

The proposal also includes $217 million for projects on college campuses and $120 million for drinking water and waste water infrastructure projects.

The Senate also has $32 million for veterans homes in Bemidji, Montevideo and Preston.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, is optimistic about reaching agreement on bonding in the remaining week and a half of session.

“Now we have to work with the House and the governor to put together a bill that we can all agree on, Gazelka said. “We should get that done in the next few days, and that should be signed into law if it goes the way I think it should.”

Republicans in the House included $324 million for the preservation of state-owned buildings. The House includes slightly less than the Senate for higher education and slightly more for water projects. House Republicans are also taking a different approach to the veterans homes, using instead money from a stadium account.

Gov. Dayton described the House proposal last week as “woefully inadequate.”

Earlier in the day, the House Ways and Means Committee added $250 million in trunk highway bonds to its bonding bill before advancing the measure.

The amendment from Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, chair of the House transportation committee, duplicates funding already passed as part of a large supplemental budget bill. But with the governor raising objections to many provisions in that big bill, Torkelson explained his reasoning.

“I do on occasion wear both a belt and suspenders, just to be safe,” Torkelson said.