$1.35 billion bonding bill, tax cuts advance in Minnesota Capitol but path to passage unclear
Republicans who hold a key role in approving the package in the House said they'd block the 'garbage bill.'
ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday, July 14, advanced a public jobs and projects bill complete with $1.35 billion in plans to update wastewater infrastructure, rebuild roads and bridges and fund improvements to university classrooms and labs.
On a 18-10 party-line vote, Democrats on the panel passed the proposal that came with an attachment to conform the state's tax code with federal tax laws, ending a disparity that forced small business owners and farmers to immediately pay income taxes for the financial gain they saw after trading in equipment or machinery.
Republicans on the committee objected to the combination of two major pieces of legislation, calling the plan a "huge garbage bill" and said they weren't involved in the deal's crafting. Their objection signals likely trouble ahead as the bill moves to the House floor.
A supermajority in each chamber would have to approve the bill to greenlight the state's issuing of bonds to fund the projects. And that means Republicans who hold a minority in the House and Democrats who hold a minority in the Senate hold a key role in deciding whether a bonding bill could advance.
House Speaker Melissa Hortman, D- Brooklyn Park, and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, on Monday said they'd come close to brokering a deal on the bonding and tax bill that could win over majority caucuses in each chamber. But the minority caucus leaders said they weren't in those discussions and weren't ready to approve the bill.
“Members, this bill’s not going anywhere. You don’t have the votes to pass it,” Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, said. “It’s becoming a huge garbage bill.”
Despite the protests from GOP lawmakers on the committee, Democrats said the bill was critical to creating jobs and boosting the state's economy after the COVID-19 pandemic, state response and civil unrest following George Floyd's death cratered Minnesota's economic outlook.
"This is what people around the state are looking for; not excuses," House Tax Committee Chair Paul Marquart, D-Dilworth, said. " We have an excellent chance right now to give our economy a boost in really fragile times."
The package includes $1.35 billion in general obligation bonds, $300 million in trunk highway bonds, $147 million in appropriation bonds and $38 million cash. The full $1.8 billion proposal will pay for a variety of construction, transportation, housing and infrastructure projects around the state that legislators say could bring online more than 27,000 jobs.
The Public Facilities Authority would receive the largest chunk of general obligation bonds: $254 million, set to be split among municipal governments whose time is running out to replace or repair aging wastewater infrastructure. The state Department of Transportation would spend the most out of any agency on infrastructure construction and improvements — $323 million — but would take out $300 million in trunk highway bonds to do it.
The 180-page bill also recommends $150 million to the state Department of Employment and Economic Development, $96 million to the Department of Natural Resources, $82 million to Minnesota State colleges and universities, $80 million to the Metropolitan Council, $75 million to the University of Minnesota, $50 million to the Department of Public Safety, $44 million to the Department of Corrections, and more.
Rep. Mary Murphy, D-Hermantown, chairs the House Capital Investment Committee and said the bonding bill was crafted with Senate leaders following extensive listening sessions around the state. More than $5 billion in requests had been submitted by state agencies and local units of government.
“It is a bonding bill but it is a bill addressing immediate needs and emergencies in the state,” Murphy said. “It will work and it will put Minnesotans to work.”
But members of the panel, both Democrats and Republicans, voiced concerns about taking out another $300 million in trunk highway bonds. And Republicans said they hadn't been adequately consulted in crafting the bill.
“If you expect any Republicans to vote for this bill, we would appreciate at least understanding what the heck is in it,” Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, said.
The House panel also advanced to the floor a $58 million supplemental state budget complete with funding for overtime payments for corrections officers, payments for State Patrol members deployed to monitor the civil unrest in the Twin Cities following Floyd's death, boost funding to personal care attendants and families on the Minnesota Family Investment Program, test rape kits and increase funding for veteran suicide and homelessness prevention initiatives.
The additional spending was offset by freezes in state hiring.
And a slate of proposed criminal justice and police accountability reforms again cleared the committee, with Democrats supporting them and Republicans opposing them. Marquart voted with Republicans in opposition. Negotiations on policing law changes failed in a June special session.