ST. PAUL — Minnesota lawmakers on Wednesday, Oct. 14, are set to vote on a $1.37 billion plan to fund public projects around the state, approve additional spending spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic and provide a tax break to small business owners and farmers.
Leaders in the Democratic-led House of Representatives and the GOP-controlled Senate have struck a compromise on the plan and could send the measure to the governor's desk for his signature this week. But that would require at least six Republican lawmakers in the House to break ranks and vote with Democrats to pass the bill.
It wasn't clear Monday that the support would materialize, though Democrats said they were hopeful they could pass the plan after adding projects to the bill that they said could win over GOP representatives. The bill had already gained bipartisan support in the Senate and members there were prepared to take it up Thursday if it passed in the House.
“The numbers that matter for the next three days in the Minnesota House is whether six Republicans will take three days to decide to save thousands of jobs,” said House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, D-Golden Valley, told reporters Monday.
Local government leaders, labor and trades groups and others have pressed lawmakers to approve a bonding bill during the last special session before Election Day. While lawmakers could be called back again in November and December if Gov. Tim Walz wants to extend the state's peacetime emergency for COVID-19, Walz and legislative leaders have said failure to pass the bill this week would likely tank prospects for a bonding bill this year.
Before lawmakers take up the plan Wednesday, here's a look at what's in it and what could stand in the way of its passage.
What's in it?
The $1.87 billion compromise bonding bill includes authorization to issue bonds to pay for wastewater infrastructure, road and bridge repairs and health and agriculture lab updates around the state. Of that total, $1.13 billion in borrowing would be put toward general obligation bonds funded by state taxes. Another $300 million in trunk highway bonds and other spending make up the rest.
It would also greenlight construction of a joint Minnesota Department of Health and Department of Agriculture lab, new buildings on the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State campuses as well as renovations. And it would fund $100 million in housing infrastructure bonds and grants for Greater Minnesota communities to get child care facilities up and running.
A supplemental budget portion of the proposal would greenlight additional spending for direct care and treatment services and reimbursements for state departments called in to assist with civil unrest spurred by the killing of George Floyd. The spending bill would also authorize funding to keep open correctional facilities in Togo and Willow River threatened by higher than expected spending at the Department of Corrections.
The plan would also include a tax cut for small business owners and farmers under a proposed state tax code re-write that would conform state code with federal code.
Can it pass on Wednesday?
The answer depends on who you ask.
Democrats on Monday said they were optimistic about the bill's prospects and closed negotiations were ongoing a day ahead of the vote. But committee discussion Monday night signaled the plan would have a tough time gaining traction among House Republicans.
The House Ways and Means Committee on Monday night approved the bill on an 18-10 party-line vote with Democrats supporting the bill and Republicans opposing it.
GOP lawmakers voiced concerns about spending to offset the costs of containing civil unrest in Minneapolis and St. Paul. They also raised concerns about the state taking on additional spending when forecasts have projected a budget deficit on the horizon.
“Obviously I’ll be voting no on this bill," Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, said. "I don’t like to vote for spending that’s not paid for. I enjoy tax cuts, but they’ve got to be paid for, you can’t just cut taxes without paying for things."
House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, has said his caucus supports a bonding bill but has put up conditions to putting up the votes needed to clear the 60% majority in the House. First, Republicans said Walz should drop the state's peacetime emergency as a condition of passing the bonding bill, and more recently he said the cost of borrowing should be offset by cuts in other state spending.
Without that, it's not clear that the plan will have his backing or that of other Republicans. Legislative leaders and the governor's staff this week remained in meetings and House Speaker Melissa Hortman, D-Brooklyn Park, said she was optimistic a deal could be reached.
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka on Monday said he worried that proposed changes to the bill could jeopardize its prospects. Gazelka and Daudt remained in quarantine and away from the Capitol Monday following their meeting with President Donald Trump during a Minnesota campaign stop late last month.