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House bill to restore Capitol fails by one vote

A skirmish in the House over how much to spend on statewide construction projects toppled a $221 million plan to repair the state’s crumbling Capitol on Thursday.

The Capitol restoration bill failed by one vote. It needed a super majority of 81 votes in order to pass. All of the Democratic lawmakers from southeastern Minnesota voted against the bill. They questioned the wisdom of spending that much money on a project that will take several years, instead of allocating more bonding dollars for statewide projects that would create jobs now.

Rep. Kim Norton, DFL-Rochester, said she supports efforts to repair the Capitol, but she added that Republicans need to put forward a more comprehensive, bipartisan bonding bill in order to win her support. Their current plan calls for spending $280 million on statewide construction projects.

"Folks are willing to spend $221 million on the Capitol, which is all jobs for the Twin Cities area rather than jobs that can be statewide, and I don’t understand that," Norton said.

Rochester Democrats are especially upset that projects including a Mayo Civic Center expansion and Zip Rail were left out of the House bonding bill.


Republicans blasted Democrats for withholding votes on the Capitol renovation bill in order to try to get projects in their own home districts.

"I think it’s petty, it’s childish and it’s embarrassing. It’s embarrassing to Minnesotans," said Speaker of the House Kurt Zeller, R-Maple Grove.

Democrats countered that Republicans have failed to work with them in a bipartisan way on a bonding bill proposal that can get the votes needed to pass. Rep. Jeanne Poppe, DFL-Austin, said she fears Republicans won't bring up the statewide bonding bill, which includes $9 million to expand The Hormel Institute.

"It’s deeply concerning to me," she said. "I want to be able to vote on a bill that includes The Hormel Institute."

Supporters of the Capitol restoration bill say the building desperately needs repairs, and by funding the project all at once it will ensure that the state gets the best price. It will also create thousands of jobs.

"If we cannot commit to fix this beautiful building, then I don’t know what we can really commit to. Maybe nothing," said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker.

Rep. Duane Quam, R-Byron, said he was disappointed that most Democrats were unwilling to support the restoration bill. He said the debate over which local projects to fund should have been kept separate.

"This is a statewide jobs bill," Quam told members on the House floor. "Now while I have reservations about the size of this expense, I do not have any reservations that we need to do it and do it now."


Red Wing Republican Rep. Tim Kelly missed the vote because of a family emergency. He said he had been assured beforehand that there were enough votes to pass the bill. He said he is hopeful it can be reconsidered.

The failure of the renovation bill raises questions about the potential for a statewide bonding bill. Quam said he thinks it doesn’t bode well.

DFL Gov. Mark Dayton has been negotiating with Republican leaders to get a larger bonding bill in exchange for supporting some of their proposed tax cuts. Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem said that those negotiations are ongoing and that he is hopeful a deal can be reached. He said he expects the Senate to debate the bonding bill on Friday or Monday.

There is a major difference between the House and Senate when it comes to repairing the Capitol. The Senate has one bonding bill which includes only $25 million for the Capitol. Senjem said his caucus does not support funding the entire Capitol project when there are concerns about the current plan, which would mean the loss of important meeting and office space.

"We think the plans need a little bit more analysis by other members," he said. "That is a major overhaul of this building."

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