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Monday, March 27, 2023

DFL leader candidly describes the dance on bonding legislation

The Minnesota Legislature’s primary task in this even-numbered year is to pass a bonding bill to finance public construction projects. But if lawmakers follow their usual routine, they won’t get it done until just before they go home for the year in late May.

During a virtual news briefing by Gov. Tim Walz and House and Senate, House DFL Majority Leader Ryan Winkler gave reporters this unusually candid description of how the Capitol leaders bonding bill dance typically plays out:

The House DFL majority, he said, will roll out a public works bill by the committee deadline for acting on finance bills — April 8 this year — with “just enough Republican projects in it to be tempting.” But he predicted House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt would speak against it, and the bill would fail because it requires a three-fifths majority or 81 votes to pass in the House, where DFLers hold 70 seats and would need at least 11 Republican votes to meet that threshold.

“Then we’ll start the real negotiations,” Winkler said. The Republican-controlled Senate “will try to hold back its cards as long as possible,” meaning it won’t say what projects it would fund or how much it’s willing to spend. “And there will be an end-of-session scramble to put together a bonding bill in a closed room.

“That is usually how it works,” he said.

As required by law, Walz unveiled his construction proposal Jan. 18, calling for a record $2.7 billion in public works spending. Winkler predicted House DFLers would “go a bit above that to show that we’re slightly more generous. I would think that $2.7 (billion) is probably a floor for us.” That would also be their opening bid in the final bonding negotiations.

House GOP leader Daudt said Winkler’s description of the process is “not necessarily wrong,” but it doesn’t have to proceed that way.

“Let’s not start with that dog-and-pony dance,” Daudt said. “Let’s figure out what makes sense” and draft a bipartisan public works package early in the session.

He expects a compromise bonding bill would be “probably about the size of the biggest one we’ve ever done in history.” That would be the $1.9 billion package, funded primarily by $1.4 billion in general obligation bonds, which the Legislature passed in 2020.

“I’ve got my sleeves rolled up,” Daudt said. “We’re ready to talk about a bonding bill.”

Winkler said House DFLers will try to “get it done as quickly as we can.”

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