ST. PAUL — A $2 billion state borrowing bill aimed at funding public construction projects around the state on Saturday, May 16, came up short of a required threshold to advance out of the Minnesota House of Representatives.
Republicans in the chamber banded together to oppose the bill, depriving it of a three-fifths majority needed to send it to the Senate. It failed on a 75-58 vote.
And with a little more than a day to wrap up their work, the Legislature didn't appear to have a clear path to passing a bonding measure.
Democrats voiced their support for the package of local projects and said it could help stimulate the state's struggling economy. GOP lawmakers, meanwhile, said the state couldn't afford to take on the debt as it faces a $2.4 billion budget shortfall.
The state received more than $5 billion in requests to fund projects from local governments, state agencies, colleges, universities and other groups. And city leaders, university heads and others on Saturday held out hope that lawmakers could strike a deal before leaving St. Paul.
Legislative leaders said they'd go back into negotiations Saturday and still hoped to advance a bonding measure this weekend.
"There will be a bonding bill, there absolutely will be a bonding bill but it won’t be this one," House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said before the proposal failed on the House floor. “We cannot afford this."
Daudt had previously said he would block the bill's passage if Gov. Tim Walz extended the state's peacetime emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The emergency allows the state to mobilize the National Guard and pull down federal emergency funds and it expands the governor's authority.
House Speaker Melissa Hortman, D-Brooklyn Park, said Daudt and his caucus had become an obstacle in approving a bonding measure and without a significant shift from them, she said a borrowing bill wouldn't have a path through the Capitol this year. While Daudt said legislative leaders didn't let him weigh in on the bonding plan, Hortman said Daudt had been unwilling to contribute.
“At this point, I feel like we’ve extended so many olive branches to Kurt Daudt that we’ve given him an entire olive tree,” Hortman told reporters. "The simple fact is this leader of the GOP caucus has not participated in any meaningful way in coming up with a solution about how to come to an agreement at the end of the session."
DFL lawmakers on Saturday said there were projects around the state that need to be funded to fix roads and bridges, wastewater infrastructure and college and university buildings. And they felt the proposed $2 billion plan could make a sizable dent in that.
“The needs are there and the process historically of a bonding bill is to meet the needs of the people of the state,” House Capital Investment Committee Chair Rep. Mary Murphy, D-Hermantown, said, noting an "old-fashioned" bonding bill wouldn't cut it. "If we never ever go beyond what's always been the acceptable amount of money for a bonding bill, we will never be able to keep up as we go forward.”
The proposal would be the largest bonding bill the state has taken up. Republican leaders in the Minnesota Senate have said they would prefer to keep the price tag around $1 billion.
Senate Capital Investment Committee Chair Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, on Saturday introduced a $998 million bonding proposal with $400 million for trunk highway bonds that he said made "strategic public investments." The bill passed through committee Saturday afternoon and was set to come up for a vote on the Senate floor Sunday.
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said he was still pushing to wrap up a bonding bill before Sunday night and was in communication with the majority and minority leaders in each chamber as well as the governor.
“I think a bonding bill right now is actually more important than it usually is,” Gazelka said. “I’m not giving up on it, I’m hoping to get it done tomorrow night.”