DFL, Republicans reach deal on $2.6 billion infrastructure package
Republicans held up the passage of a borrowing bill for much of the session. Just days before the legislative deadline, DFLers agreed to GOP requests to provide $300 million to nursing homes.
ST. PAUL — After months of uncertainty and negotiations, Democratic-Farmer-Labor and Republican lawmakers on Saturday, May 20, announced a deal on more than $2.6 billion in borrowing and spending on public infrastructure.
Minority Senate Republicans had held up the passage of a major public works borrowing bill for much of the session as they attempted to push DFLers to adopt bigger tax cuts and boost nursing home funding.
Just days before the legislative deadline, DFLers agreed to Republican requests to provide $300 million over the next four years to nursing homes struggling with staffing shortages and growing costs.
“We are glad now that we came together and have this historic agreement that will help communities all across the state of Minnesota,” said Senate Majority Leader Kari Dziedzic.
It’s been more than two years since the Legislature passed a bonding bill — a major public works borrowing bill that helps fund projects like water treatment plants and roadwork across the state. Small local governments often rely on bonding to build essential infrastructure they’d otherwise struggle to afford.
In a statement, the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities hailed the deal as a victory for smaller communities across the state, an example of “what can be achieved when Democrats and Republicans work together for Minnesotans.”
“It is wonderful news that legislators finally came to an agreement on a much-needed and long-awaited bonding bill that serves the needs of Greater Minnesota,” said Thief River Falls Mayor Brian Holmer, president of the coalition.
So, what exactly will the infrastructure bill cover? House Speaker Melissa Hortman told reporters Saturday that the bill has $1.5 billion in borrowing, the part that needs Republican votes. The cash part is about $1.1 billion. It's a revival of an infrastructure package that passed the House earlier this session.
Much of the borrowing in that bill was for statewide agency projects, such as for colleges, housing and corrections. More than $245 million is specifically marked for transportation projects, including local road improvement and bridge replacement programs. Close to $180 million in borrowing currently is marked for Minnesota State Colleges and Universities.
About $90 million in bonds and $185 million in cash for local projects was split between Democrats and Republicans.
Borrowing bills require three-fifths support from the Senate and House to pass. And even though Democrats have majorities in both chambers, they need GOP votes to get a supermajority on a bill. House Republicans joined DFLers in approving the $1.5 billion bonding bill earlier this year, but Senate Republicans blocked it, demanding more action on tax cuts as the state has a historic $17.5 billion surplus.
But soon it became clear that DFLers did not have any interest in entertaining Republican demands to fully repeal the Social Security income tax and increase the size of tax rebate checks. After months of offers from Republicans — and just days before the end of session — the deal came on just the nursing homes.
“If we’re going to save one thing, we’ve got to make sure we save our nursing homes,” said Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson.
Before they secured Republican support, DFLers had planned to move forward with a $1.3 billion cash-only infrastructure some described as the “go it alone” bill. But now that there’s a borrowing deal, $300 million of that cash will go to nursing homes.
Republicans said the funding is vital for struggling nursing homes, and that a Health and Human Services bill the Senate passed Friday night did not do enough for long-term care, which they say is in a crisis due to staffing and costs.
Hortman pointed out the Health and Human Services budget bill that passed the Senate Friday night contains $100 million in no-interest loans for nursing homes and $90 million for workforce retention.
Follow Alex Derosier on Twitter @xanderosier or email firstname.lastname@example.org .