Monday, May 23, 2016

While you were sleeping Sunday evening....

....the latest Minnesota legislative session was wrapping up. Since the MN Constitution prohibited legislative business beyond Midnight, May 22, the obligatory last second push was taking place for the most salient issues. In this case, it was transportation.

The MN House Republican majority had two non-negotiable items when it came to transportation funding: They insisted on no gas tax increase as well as no funding for Southwest Light Rail Transit. Pioneer Press writer David Montgomery detailed the frenzied final minutes of this session.

In the final hour, the House approved a $1 billion borrowing bill that included $236 million in bonding, $266 million in cash and $181 million in trunk highway spending for roads and bridges, according to the House. That bill was dashed over, literally run by a fast staffer, to the Minnesota Senate Building for its approval as midnight approached. But the time to act was too slim and the will to agree was too little. Senate Democrats added an amendment allowing local funding for the Southwest Light Rail project. But the House adjourned for the year before a runner could sprint across University Avenue to the Capitol, where the House meets, with the amended bonding bill.

Then the clock in the Senate chamber hit 12: the midnight deadline under the Minnesota Constitution after which no further action could be taken.

According to an email from Susan Closmore, Director of Public Affairs with the House GOP caucus, it seems pretty clear the DFL prioritized a metro area choo choo train ahead of the infrastructure needs of greater Minnesota.

The Minnesota House also passed a bonding bill with $696.5 million in funding for roads and bridges on a bipartisan vote of 91 to 39. In a political maneuver, the Senate DFL majority failed to pass the bonding bill and prevented funding from going to the following projects across the state of Minnesota:

• $60 million for Highway 23 New London to Paynesville
• $45 million for U.S. Highway 14 Owatonna to Dodge Center
• $30 million for U.S. Highway 10 Hanson Blvd. to Round Lake Blvd.
• $40 million for Land acquisition U.S. Highway 14 Nicollet to New Ulm
• $34.5 million for City of Moorhead railroad crossing separation
• $20 million for Cliff Road and I-35W Improvements
• $25 million for Interstate 35W/CSAH 3 Transit Access Project
• $20.5 million for Interstate 694/Rice Street Interchange
• $14.7 million for rail grade crossing separation in City of Red Wing
• $11.9 million for rail grade crossing separation in Anoka County
• $12.5 million for Small Cities Road Assistance, a new program established by House Republicans in 2015

"Unfortunately, in the final weeks Senate Democrats made a choice to hold funding for our roads and bridges hostage for an expensive train in Minneapolis, and in the final moments of session, sunk a bonding bill that included projects to fix some of Minnesota's most regionally important projects including Highway 14, Highway 10, and Highway 23," concluded Speaker (Kurt) Daudt.

Even DFL senator Ron Latz unwittingly indicted his own party for scuttling the bonding bill.

Given that both the House and Senate are up for reelection this year, this will absolutely be a central theme of many campaigns, especially among GOP senate candidates in outstate Minnesota looking to unseat incumbent DFLers. Of course there's always a chance that Gov. Mark Dayton will call a special session to resolve this issue, but only if Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk agrees to drop the idea of SWLRT funding. Otherwise what's the point?

I have a feeling Bakk and other representatives of rural areas may well hear from constituents who feel strongly that some of these infrastructure repairs are long past due and need to be addressed immediately. One hopes that cooler heads can prevail and thus realize that safe roads and bridges (as my friend Andy Aplikowski says) should not be a luxury.


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