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Minnesota House turns to spending, bonding bill funds

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By Patrick Howe

Associated Press

ST. PAUL :The House rejected an $839 million bonding bill Thursday night as lawmakers divided over whether to pay for a commuter rail line or outstate roads and highways.

Support for the bill among the Republican majority began unraveling when an amendment funding the Northstar commuter line passed.

"The Democrats have taken over the bonding bill," said Rep. Dave Bishop, a Rochester Republican. The amendment drained funds that would have gone toward highway and regional road projects such as the proposed upgrade of the Rochester portion of Highway 52.

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"We really should be following the lead of transportation chairs to put the highest priority on roads -- 10-ton rods, regional corridor roads, the big ones," Bishop told the House while announcing his opposition to commuter rail.

The bill, which needed 81 votes to pass, didn't even get a simple majority.

Only 59 representatives supported the measure, while 68 voted against it.

The House can try again to pass the bill in the days ahead.

Most of the money in the House bill is dedicated to new buildings and renovations for colleges, along with repairs to bridges and roads.

The House's bill is about the same size as Gov. Jesse Ventura's original bonding plan, though he now says the state can't afford more than $500 million in new capital spending. But the House measure was smaller than a $1.2 billion plan in the Senate.

The House plan includes more money for roads and bridge projects than either competing plan, with $148 million overall.

Much of the night's debate was over the commuter rail line. It was not in the original bill, but an amendment by Republican Rep. Kathy Tingelstad of Andover took $9 million from a building maintenance fund to pay design and land acquisition costs for the line. It passed 71-61.

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The rail line then survived, on a tie vote, an attempt to use the money instead for roads and another to use the cash for the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis.

The amendments were offered by Republicans, in an apparent attempt to split the predominantly Democratic majority for the train.

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