Senate passes massive public works bill; ends special session

The Minnesota State Capitol from a distance.
Legislators arrive to the Minnesota State Capitol before the house comes into session on March 26.
Evan Frost | MPR News

It took a regular session and five special sessions, but the Minnesota Legislature finally passed a massive public works borrowing package and sent it to DFL Gov. Tim Walz, who has said he will sign it.

Several Republicans complained loudly in the Senate about a process that left them with no way to make changes to the bill, but despite the griping, the Senate passed it easily by a vote of 64-3.

Democrats in the Minnesota House put the Republican Senate in a take-it-or-leave position. The House overwhelmingly passed the plus-size bonding bill Wednesday night and then adjourned the special session. That meant there was no longer any opportunity for the Senate to make changes.

Sen. Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point, was among those angered by the House move.

“We have no voice and no choice, because if we amend this bill it’s dead and the state of Minnesota has no bonding bill at all,” she said. “So, I think it’s a pretty poor choice we’ve been given today, and I think the House going sine die is one of the most irresponsible things I’ve seen in my political career since I’ve been here.”

Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, objected to the process as well as the bill’s contents. He complained that some tax provisions he favored were stripped from the bill.

“It’s akin to taking a chug from a gallon of milk and realizing it is rancid,” he said.

The borrowing provisions in the bill cover public works projects throughout the state, including roads, bridges, water treatment infrastructure, parks and trails, and renovations to state facilities and college buildings.

The tax portion provides breaks to farmers and small businesses for equipment purchases. The spending in the bill includes money to keep open corrections facilities in Togo and Willow River and raise pay for state troopers and personal care assistants.

Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, the chair of the capital investment committee and chief author of the bill, said it was important to the state of Minnesota.

“We’re here after a long arduous journey, a journey of many, many renditions of spreadsheets and agreements and trades and so on and so forth,” he said. “But that is the process.” 

Sen. Chuck Wiger, DFL-Maplewood, said he was pleased that a compromise could be reached in the fifth special session of the year after months of discussion.

“After the fourth special session, I thought this was mission impossible,” he said. “But thankfully we have an agreement, a bipartisan agreement that does a great deal of wonderful things that are going to stimulate the economy.”

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