ST. PAUL — More than a billion dollars worth of wastewater treatment, road and bridge and other public construction projects could get a green light at the state Capitol next week.
But that's only if leaders in the divided Legislature can strike a deal on a plan that can appease minority members, who hold a key role in getting a bill to the three-fifths threshold needed to advance it.
Minnesota lawmakers on Monday, Oct. 12, are set to return for a fifth special legislative session this year to weigh the extension of the state's peacetime emergency to combat COVID-19. But while they're at the Capitol they could also take up a $1.37 billion bonding bill that would fund projects around the state.
While a bill has been drafted and leaders on Capitol bonding committees are on board with its contents, Republican lawmakers in the House of Representatives may again stand in the way of the bill's passage.
During the regular legislative session and in brief special sessions over the summer, GOP lawmakers have blocked the passage of a bonding bill, first saying the governor should drop his emergency powers as a condition of passing it and later warning the state couldn't afford the debt as it faces a projected $4.7 billion budget hole.
Local officials, trades groups and others have said a bonding bill would offer needed economic stimulus to communities and workers grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic. And ahead of the next special session, they've led a public push to pass the proposal.
"Our elected state leaders cannot simply ignore ongoing infrastructure and employment needs and expect the state deficit to magically go away," Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities President and Little Falls Mayor Greg Zylka wrote in a Duluth News Tribune column. "These are exactly the sorts of investments that are needed to inject life back into our economy so we can chip away at the deficit and get back on the path to prosperity.
Jason George, business manager of International Union of Operating Engineers Local 49, on Twitter echoed the support for the bonding bill and said legislative leaders should bring the compromise proposal up for a vote, and if it fails he would "hold whoever stands in the way of economic recovery accountable in 3 weeks."
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, and House Speaker Melissa Hortman, D-Brooklyn Park, for months have said they're open to passing a compromise bill. But House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, has opposed measures that have come before him so far.
Legislative leaders and Gov. Tim Walz remained in private talks about the proposal on Friday, Oct. 9. But the first-term governor sounded frustrated about interactions with GOP lawmakers and the bill's prospects in a midday radio interview.
"They're going to come back and complain about a mask mandate when we should be finishing the roads and bridges and the projects that would benefit the folks in Grand Rapids and throughout the state and the area," Walz told KAXE Radio. "Everybody agrees, every chamber of commerce, every labor union, that that's what we should be doing so I would ask that instead of coming back and fighting with me, help me, work with me, let's find things that work on this, let's stop this virus and let's get Minnesota moving."
Walz and others have said Monday likely would be the deadline to pass a bonding measure as lawmakers are set to turn their sights to the election in the coming weeks. Each of Minnesota's 201 legislative seats will be on the ballot in November, possibly resetting the balance of power at the Capitol.
The Legislature is set to convene for the special session Monday at noon.
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