Senate offers to split the difference on bonding bills
By Lenora Chu
In a surprise move, Senate DFL and Republican leaders came together Tuesday and offered to meet the House halfway on the bonding bill.
Earlier in the session, the Senate passed a $1.08 million capital investment bill, while the House supported a smaller $740 million package.
Senate leaders Tuesday proposed a compromise bill of $908 million, an even split between the two chambers, bringing their plan down $168 million.
"This is a serious gesture on the Senate's part to tip the first domino and wrap up the session," said Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe, DFL-Erskine. "Nothing could be fairer than splitting the difference on the overall dollar amount."
Other Senate leaders also expressed hope that the offer would help speed things along in the Legislature, now mired in conference committees over House-Senate differences on various issues, including bonding, transportation and the state budget.
"This is a good bipartisan start," said Sen. Dick Day, a Republican from Owatonna. "We get rid of this one and go on to the next one."
The Senate proposed a variety of cuts from its original plan, including $43 million from higher education, $10 million from the Department of Children, Families and Learning and $9.3 million from the Department of Natural Resources, with others spread throughout. The Senate did take the opportunity, however, to increase by $7 million the amount of bonding for the Northstar Commuter Rail project, to a total of $15 million.
Allocations for projects in southeastern Minnesota remain unchanged -- the Senate still supports bonding for a new science building for Winona State University, the Shooting Star and Blazing Star trails from LeRoy and Albert Lea toward Austin, the pre-design for a regional state-agency office building and the design of a new Rochester Arts Center.
However, local senators have said the original bill's provisions for the area were insufficient to begin with, calling particular attention to its relatively meager allocation of $100,000 to an 800-MHz state emergency radio communications system for the area, compared with the House's $26 million provision.
The Senate will wait for a response from House leaders. Sen. Keith Langseth, a Glyndon Democrat and chairman of the bonding conference committee, said that if the House agrees to the Senate's split-the-difference bonding target, he would call a meeting to work out line-item differences.
House Minority Leader Tom Pugh, a Democrat from South St. Paul, said he is "encouraged" by the Senate's proposal and expects House Democrats to support the compromise.