With road, bridge and water projects on hold, groups press Minnesota lawmakers to 'get back to work'
Legislative leaders returned to the Capitol this week to talk through spending bills that they couldn't finish in May. They said that a $1.4 billion bonding bill and transportation plan were still in negotiations.
ST. PAUL — Mayors, labor union leaders, local transportation officials and others on Tuesday, June 7, tried to put pressure on lawmakers to return to the Capitol to wrap up a $1.4 billion local jobs and projects bill and to approve match funds that could unlock billions of dollars in federal infrastructure funding.
Minnesota lawmakers came into the 2022 legislative session with a historic $9.2 billion budget surplus. And after four months, they walked away from the Capitol last month without spending about $7 billion. They also failed to wrap what is historically their main priority in an even-numbered year: A local jobs and projects bill.
Their unfinished work was top of mind for local officials, utility, energy and trade groups and construction workers at the Capitol Tuesday. Some tried to coax legislators back with comments about how new funding for roads, bridges, water infrastructure and electric vehicle charging stations could be legacy-making. Meanwhile, others took a tougher tack and said they'd lose their livelihoods if they left as much work undone as lawmakers did this year.
"Do not jeopardize an infrastructure bill by your inability here at the state level not to get along with each other or to sit at a table and pat each other on the back and say, 'You have got a hell of a lot done today,' and then go home," Dan Olson, a liaison for LIUNA International, said. "Get back to work, finish what you're doing and let's move on."
Local city planners and engineers said that failing to take rapid action on the federal match funding could delay or block projects already in line for construction and add expenses for Minnesota communities down the line. Department of Transportation officials have said that the state could miss out on $100 million in federal funds annually without the matching funding proposed in a supplemental state budget bill for transportation.
Do not jeopardize an infrastructure bill by your inability here at the state level not to get along with each other ... Get back to work, finish what you're doing and let's move on.
Margaret Anderson Kelliher, Minneapolis director of public works and former Minnesota commissioner of transportation, said if lawmakers don't approve the funding to match federal infrastructure money, state transportation leaders would be unable to start or continue projects. And that could mean a lot of letdowns.
"There are projects in the queue that are going to be delayed or canceled," Anderson Kelliher said. "It may not be fatal, but it sure is not good practice. And it's a disappointment and a letdown to these communities who have been waiting."
Some of those negotiating the state's next transportation spending bill said that the state could still bring in the federal funds, even if lawmakers failed to pass a transportation bill this year. That would just require the department to move around funding for other purposes.
"I don't think it's Armageddon if we don't (agree), I would like to get it done this summer but it isn't going to be the end of the world if we don't," Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, said. Newman chairs the Senate Transportation Committee.
Members on that panel have disagreed on how to fund the state's match for federal infrastructure funds, with Republicans pushing to use a state auto parts sales tax to cover it, while Democrats said the state should use general fund dollars. Newman said the issue was non-negotiable for him and that despite talks between him and House Chair Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, they'd not yet been able to break the impasse.
Legislative leaders and the governor a week before the legislative deadline reached a deal for a $12 billion outline that would use $4 billion for new spending, $4 billion for tax relief and $4 billion to be set aside in case the state's economy sours, they couldn't pass the bulk of the deal before the May 23 legislative deadline. Legislative leaders and the governor said they've talked privately about how they can hammer out an agreement on outstanding pieces and call lawmakers back to St. Paul to approve them.
House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, on Tuesday said she along with Gov. Tim Walz and Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, had begun meeting with lawmakers working in those areas to forge deals.
"I would say I think promising conversations are still happening. And I think both in transportation and bonding, we're really close," Hortman said.
Leaders were set to discuss and trade offers on the transportation spending bill on Wednesday, June 8, Hortman said.