Bonding could be Legislature's last man standing
ST. PAUL — Most Minnesotans may not get excited about the state spending money to fix things, but Paul Torkelson is stoked.
The Hanska Republican state representative clutched paperwork as he left the House chamber late Sunday, May 20.
Asked what he thought of the 2018 session, he pointed to the paper and a smile overtook his face: "This bonding bill is tremendous."
As House transportation chairman, Torkelson talked about the road and bridge money in the measure, about $500 million all told.
It is possible that the bonding bill will be the biggest success from the 2018 Minnesota Legislature.
Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat who struggled to work with the Republican-controlled Legislature, said he expects to veto the other two major bills on his desk: a 990-page spending and policy mashup and a combination tax and education funding bill.
He has two weeks to decide for sure, but in a late Sunday news conference he said he plans those two vetoes. Those bills contain most of the work from the three-month-long session that ended minutes before Sunday midnight.
Dayton, in Washington through Tuesday, said he would take his time looking through the bills before stamping "veto" on them.
The governor said that he had not seen the bonding bill and could not promise to sign it. However, in the Legislature his fellow Democrats joined Republicans in passing the bill in the last half hour they could approve bills. In the Senate, the count was 42-25, while the House put up a dominate 113-17 vote.
In general, the bonding bill is not sexy. Unlike some years in which lots of new buildings are funded, lawmakers this year concentrated on fixing what they state already owns.
One part of the bonding bill Minnesotans may notice is the transportation plan that pleased Torkelson, who is the House transportation chairman.
If the bill is signed, transportation money will go to state and local roads and bridges. It also will go to railroad crossing projects, such as one in Moorhead and another in Anoka.
About $400 million from 2020 to 2024 would be used for the Corridors of Commerce Program for highways that connect cities. Some of that money would go to U.S. 14 across southern Minnesota and Minnesota 23 in the west, two highways that long have been dangerous and area residents often beg the state to improve them.
Local roads, such as owned by counties and cities, would get nearly $79 million.
State-owned colleges and universities would get $90 million to make routine repairs and improvements. Less money is set aside for major renovations than in most bonding bills, but the University of Minnesota Pillsbury Hall in the Twin Cities would get $24 million and Minnesota State campuses in Bemidji and Rochester each would receive more than $22 million.
Overall, Dayton and his top aides said the bonding bill is too small. It would spend $1.5 billion from all funds, with $825 million coming from general tax revenue. Dayton wanted $1.5 billion for his basic bill, and when local projects he supports were included it would mount to $2.3 billion.
"This is clearly a missed opportunity," Commissioner Myron Frans of Minnesota Management and Budget said.
It is not known if Dayton will veto the bill because it is too small.
The bill was too small to pass the Senate until negotiators were within an hour of the deadline to pass it. That is when projects were added to attract legislative votes, such as the Lake Superior Zoo in Duluth, a Rice Lake water main and a couple of Anoka projects.
"There is a lot of good stuff in this bill," House sponsor Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, said during a short debate in his chamber.
Lawmakers with big chunks of money in the bill were enthusiastic.
"This is a great day for Bemidji," Rep. Matt Bliss, R-Pennington, said in a large part because of $32 million for new veterans' homes in Bemidji, Preston and Montevideo.
The Minnesota funds would be used to leverage federal money to build the facilities.
Even after bonding, lawmakers unanimously passed a bill designed to stabilize pension plans for more than 500,000 public employees. There is not enough money going into pension accounts to pay benefits in the years to come, so the bill adds funding and makes reforms.
On Monday, Republicans began a campaign to influence Dayton to sign bonding, the tax-education funding bill and legislation containing most policy and budget items. They brought out a number of people from different professions to argue why Dayton should accept the GOP bills.
• Almost $500 million for roads and bridges
• $300 million to fix and maintain state-owned facilities
• $210 million for University of Minnesota and Minnesota State facilities
• $120 million for housing needs
• $120 million for sewer and water projects
• $51 million for new mental health crisis centers and housing
• $32 million for three new veterans homes
• $25 million for schools to improve safety