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Bonding first pre-special session agreement for Minnesota legislature

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota budget negotiators said throughout Thursday they were confident they could hold a special Saturday legislative session to finish passing the state budget, but as the sun set all they had to show for their work was a public w...

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Minnesota state Rep. Paul Torkelson of Hanska tells reporters Thursday June 4, 2015, that negotiators had agreed to a public works spending bill. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

ST. PAUL - Minnesota budget negotiators said throughout Thursday they were confident they could hold a special Saturday legislative session to finish passing the state budget, but as the sun set all they had to show for their work was a public works finance bill agreement.

The public works bill would spend $373 million, $180 million of which would be financed by bonds to be repaid from general tax revenues.

Throughout the day, House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, met three times with Lt. Gov. Tina Smith and regularly with committee chairmen. Thursday night, the speaker headed to Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton's home for a one-on-one conversation. All meetings were behind closed doors and participants said little about what was happening.

Negotiators were working on legislation funding education, jobs-economic development-energy, agriculture-environment, public works and outdoors-arts projects.

The elusive budget deal is needed before the governor can call a special session to approve spending more than $17 billion of the state's $42 billion, two-year budget. All four legislative leaders and Dayton plan to sign an agreement setting out the agenda of a special session before the governor schedules it.

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Dayton vetoed three of eight budget bills after the regular session ended May 18, leaving 17 agencies without money if spending legislation is not approved by July 1. Bills funding public works and "legacy" outdoors and arts projects did not pass during the regular session.

Legislative leaders scheduled a 3 p.m. Friday meeting of the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means committees to consider the five spending bills that need to pass during a special session.

Twice after Smith and Daudt met Thursday afternoon, Smith said they discussed jobs legislation and the major hang-up for scheduling a special session: the governor's wish to overturn a newly signed law that allows counties to hire private accountants instead of using the state auditor to check county finances.

Dayton says he will not call a special session, and he is the only one who can call one, until legislators agree to overturn the auditor provision. But Daudt says he does not have enough votes in the House to do that.

Daudt said four issues needed to be fixed in a jobs and energy bill and some technical issues needed to be resolved in other legislation Thursday night.

Agreement about funding public works projects around the state was one of the final agreements needed before lawmakers are ready for a special session, and it came out Thursday with a $373 million total.

Of that, $180 million in state-sold bonds would be repaid by general tax money, with the rest coming from a variety of sources.

"It is what we would call a lean and mean bonding bill," Daudt said.

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Among items included in the so-called bonding bill:

  • $38.5 million for flood-related expenditures for 2014 flood recovery, Otter Tail County lake flooding, Red River Valley flood-prevention efforts and other projects.
  • $33 million to finish renovation of the state Capitol building.
  • $26.5 million for Willmar and St. Paul poultry testing facilities, both University of Minnesota projects.
  • $171 million to reroute U.S. 53 in northeastern Minnesota as a taconite mine takes over the old highway.
  • $29 million for the next phase of southwest Minnesota's Lewis and Clark rural water system.
  • $1.2 million for Northeast Regional Corrections Center renovations.
  • $10 million for sewage treatment facilities.
  • $3.8 million for a Willmar railroad crossing, $4.7 million for one in Plymouth and $460,000 for a third at Rainy River.
  • $31.9 million for Minnesota State Colleges and Universities projects, including renovations at Minnesota West Community and Technical College, Dakota County Technical College, Anoka Technical College and St. Paul College.

"It is pretty well balanced" between Twin Cities and greater Minnesota projects, said Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, chairman of the House committee that draws up bonding legislation.
Torkelson and Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, D-Plummer, led negotiations for 14 hours Wednesday, then reached agreement Thursday.

"Bonding bills provide vital funding to maintain and improve the publicly owned infrastructure of the state," Stumpf said.

The senator said he was disappointed that Republicans wanted a smaller bonding bill this year, but said he was happy with the compromise.

Torkelson said that he does not expect all Republicans to vote for the bill: "I never expected 100 percent participation." Some in the GOP want no bonding bill, he said.

He said he expects enough Democrats to provide votes for it to pass.

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