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Bonding passes in Minn. House as session winds down

Next to a hand-written note thanking him for seeking more education funding, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton tells reporters Monday, May 14, 2018, that he will not sign a tax bill if he does not get "emergency" funding for education. Don Davis / Forum News Service

ST. PAUL—Minnesota House passage of a public works funding bill signals the beginning of the end to the 2018 Minnesota Legislature.

The House voted 84-39 Monday, May 14, for a bill that would borrow about $1 billion for everything from fixing college buildings to building water-treatment plants throughout the state.

"I cannot guarantee you are going to get another chance," Chairman Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, told fellow representatives as he urged support.

Some of the major areas of spending include:

• $364 million for asset preservation in state facilities.

• $120 million for road and bridge work.

• $153 million for water and conservation projects.

• $25 million for school safety.

As usual, school-owned colleges and universities would get sizeable amounts of money to fix their facilities, but some money also would go to renovate and construct buildings.

The bill would provide $25 million for mental health centers, an attempt to help what many call a mental health emergency. And $41 million is included to help build veterans homes in Montevideo, Bemidji and Preston from excess funds for U.S. Bank Stadium.

While the bill's total borrowing is close to $1 billion, $825 million would be repaid with general tax revenue.

"This bill checks all the boxes, from geographic balance to its responsible overall dollar figure and the projects themselves in terms of sticking to the priorities and focusing heavily on infrastructure," Urdahl said.

The top Democratic bonding lawmaker, Rep. Alice Hausman of St. Paul, said she hopes more spending can be added to the bill.

Rep. Jeremy Munson, R-Lake Crystal, called the legislation "not responsible."

"We have a bonding bill in which legislators get to put in their pet projects," Munson said about the measure that raises money by the state selling bonds.

The Senate has a bill, which it has yet to debate, about the same size as the House, but it earmarks many more projects. Gov. Mark Dayton delivered a proposal specifically calling for $1.5 billion in spending, but when local projects are added it would be $2.3 billion.

The bonding bill is one sign that work is progressing as the Legislature nears its constitutional end. Lawmakers have until Sunday midnight to pass bills.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka sought a Monday afternoon meeting with Democrat Dayton after telling him that the House and Senate had agreed on a tax bill and an outline of how to spend the budget surplus. The meeting will be over Tuesday breakfast, Dayton said.

Dayton said he will not sign a tax bill like the House or Senate are debating if lawmakers do not approve "emergency" school funding he wants.

"There is plenty of money sitting in their tax bill," Dayton said about finding funds for the $138 million school appropriation he suggests.

But Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said he was surprised by Dayton's request and called it "next to impossible" to approve that much in the final days of the session."It's too much, too late."

Day care probe set

A television investigation that claims up to $100 million a year meant to help fund children's day care has been stolen, with some landing in the hands of terrorists, is headed to a Senate committee investigation.

Sen. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, announced that his health and human services committee will hold a hearing on the subject Tuesday afternoon.

"Minnesota taxpayers want to know, who's minding the store?" Abeler said.

Fox9 television in the Twin Cities reported that "some businesses were gaming the system to steal millions in government subsidies meant to help low-income families with their childcare expenses."

The station reported a former terrorism investigator said much of the stolen money ended up supporting terrorists.

Interim Human Services Commissioner Chuck Johnson said millions of dollars are being stolen, but he doubts the $100 million figure. "There is no evidence of a scope of that size."

Johnson said his department is on top of the child care theft problem. Funding from the Legislature last year allowed the Department of Human Services to add eight people to investigate the fraud; Johnson said six have been hired.

Harsher protest penalty OK'd

Senators mostly split along party lines in passing a bill to increase penalties for protesters interfering with roads and airports.

The Senate 40-27 vote followed one a few days ago in the House.

"Freedom of speech and freedom of assembly are essential," Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, said. However, he added, protesters blocking roads and airports means "people aren't able to go about their lives."

Democrats reminded GOP colleagues of numerous protests, including some by famers, that have brought about change.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.