Minnesota budget official warns about construction delays if lawmakers stall on borrowing bill

A Minnesota House panel advanced a nearly $2 billion package of long-discussed construction projects and tax breaks Tuesday, though it's headed for a stalemate.

On a 18-10 vote, Democrats who control the House's powerful budget committee moved forward with the proposal despite objections from Republicans who called it a "garbage bill." 

Now, Gov. Tim Walz's top budget official is warning that construction projects could be delayed if lawmakers fail to pass the borrowing bill by Monday. The state would have to scrap two bond sales in August if lawmakers don't reach an agreement, budget commissioner Myron Frans said.

"It’s really important to keep these projects going, we need this cash. We need to sell these bonds," Frans told lawmakers.

The measure includes $1.35 billion in borrowing for construction and maintenance projects, nearly $500 million for a series of other projects, and an estimated $99 million in tax cuts.

"We have an agreement, in this divided Legislature, between a Republican Senate and a Democratic House," said state Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth. 

But there's a major problem: bonding bills need 60 percent support to pass in the House and Senate, requiring votes from both parties.

The minority caucuses -- House Republicans and Senate Democrats -- both say they've been sidelined during the negotiations. Several House GOP members are vowing to block the bill on the floor.

"I just want to wave my hands and remind the House DFL that there are non-DFL members in the House of Representatives, and you need our votes to pass this bill," said state Rep. Pat Garofolo, R-Farmington. "We’re not voting for it because you refuse to negotiate with us."

Lawmakers have been unable to move forward with the bonding bill for months. 

House Speaker Melissa Hortman acknowledged Monday that legislative leaders were now tying the bonding bill and tax provisions together because they did not have enough votes to pass separately.

The list of construction projects spans the state. One of the biggest individual projects is a long-delayed replacement for the deteriorating Kellogg Boulevard-Third Street bridge on the east side of downtown St. Paul.

"That’s been put aside and put aside and put aside and put aside and put aside! We are funding it at $52 million," said state Rep. Mary Murphy, DFL-Hermantown.

While the bill also includes a series of tax cuts, the lion's share of the breaks will go to businesses and farming operations that buy new equipment. The proposal would allow them to deduct the cost of the equipment on their taxes, matching up with a federal exemption that took effect in 2018.