In the Spotlight

News & Features
Go to Session 2003
DocumentSession 2003
DocumentBudget and Taxes
DocumentHigher Education
DocumentK-12 Education
DocumentHealth and Welfare
DocumentPublic Safety
Your Voice
DocumentJoin the conversation with other MPR listeners in the News Forum.

DocumentE-mail this pageDocumentPrint this page
House, Senate play cat and mouse with bonding bill
One week into the special session, the Minnesota House has passed a transportation bill that could put as much as $900 million into road projects over the next four years. The bill would borrow for projects and use an advance of federal money, an approach criticized by Democrats as short-sighted. Senate DFL leaders say they won't take up the transportation bill until the House also passes a capital investment bill.

St. Paul, Minn. — The $3.8 billion transportation bill, negotiated by legislative leaders over the weekend, funds the state departments of transportation and public safety. Most of the debate surrounded the $400 million the state would borrow for road projects.

Minnesota would also get an advance of federal transportation money, for a total infusion of up to $900 million. Rep. Al Juhnke, DFL-Willmar, says the state will pay more than $200 million in interest on the bonds, which will reduce money available for transportation in the future.

"This is borrowed money, borrowed time, borrowed for our roads, and it's a big giant step to nowhere," says Juhnke.

The bonds will be paid for with savings from cuts to MnDOT for road maintenance and other unspecified areas. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Bill Kuisle, R-Rochester says the infusion of cash will speed up road projects, and save the state money on buying increasingly expensive highway right-of-way. Kuisle says the bill is one of the largest single investments in the state's roads.

"This bill is an attempt -- and it's a darn good attempt -- and it's going to go a long ways towards trying to meet some of those funding needs. Does it go toward alleviating all the transit? No," Kuisle says.

Transit advocates criticized the bill for cutting transit funding about 11 percent. The bill includes nearly $7 million to pay for half of the operating costs of the Hiawatha light rail line between Minneapolis and the Mall of America.

It contains no funding for the proposed Northstar commuter rail line between St. Cloud and Minneapolis. Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, says the bill doesn't address the demand for mass transit.

"We have a little attempt at roads, we go backwards on bus transit, when the general public is crying for more relief, we go backwards."

Hausman and all but one of her DFL colleagues voted against the bill, which passed 82-50. The bill includes a proposal to allow solo drivers to pay a fee to drive in lanes reserved for high-occupancy vehicles.

It also includes funding for up to 50 new state troopers, as part of a deal reached between Gov. Pawlenty and supporters of later bar hours. Bars that choose to remain open until 2 a.m. will pay an annual fee of between $200 and $600 per year.

The House also voted 68-65 Wednesday night to approve a tax bill that cuts the state's commitment to city and county aid.

But uncertainty over the bonding measure could cause a tie-up in the special legislative session. Senate Democrats have complained bitterly about those measures, as well as the other pieces of the budget deal. They say they cut too deeply into state services and will force local governments to increase property taxes as a result.

The one concession DFLers did score was GOP acceptance of a bonding bill. But Assistant Senate Majority Leader Ann Rest of New Hope says Democrats won't take up the final budget items until the House makes good on its bonding promise.

"Since it is the policy bill for jobs and economic development that is the marquee issue for the Senate, we need to make sure that that bill is passed, and then we are prepared to take up the rest of the bills that deal with all those deep cuts," says Rest.

House Republicans, however, are similarly wary of the Senate's intentions. Rep. Phil Krinkie, R-Shoreview, chairs the House Capital Investment committee which oversees the bonding process.

"Like always, we'd just like some assurances that the Senate is going to actually pass the health and human services bill, the tax bill, a couple of major pieces of legislation," says Krinkie.

Speaker Sviggum says he's aware that some in his caucus would like to hold the bonding bill back until the Senate has approved the outstanding budget bills. But he says he sees no reason to suspect the commitment made by DFL leaders.

Sviggum says the House will pass the bonding bill later Wednesday, along with a newly agreed upon health and human services package. At that point, Sviggum says, the path will be clear for final Senate action on all remaining budget legislation.

Respond to this story
News Headlines
Related Subjects