Minnesota Republican Speaker of the House, Kurt Daudt (R-31A), doesn’t see $1 billion dollar biennium borrowing bill for Minnesota as “incredible” or “unimaginable.” Democrat Leadership want even more.

Kurt Daudt, Mark Dayton & Tom Bakk (credit: CBS)
Kurt Daudt, Mark Dayton & Tom Bakk (credit: CBS)

The 2016 Legislative session begins March 8th. This year a major part of the agenda will be the bonding bill.  Governor Mark Dayton has proposed a $1.4 billion bonding bill, with projects ranging from $343 million for new construction for Minnesota university and college campuses to improving state water quality ($220 million) included in the more than 100 projects around Minnesota.  Only a few of the projects included are transportation or transit related, with Dayton stating that he’d rather have those included in a long-range transportation bill that will also be taken up by legislators this session.

Republicans have criticized the bill as too large, with Senate Minority Leader, David Hann (R-Eden Prairie) declaring that the proposal “should be cut in half.” Senator Hann may be surprised by House Speaker Kurt Daudt’s (R-31A) opinion on the bill.

During a recent (Feb. 1, 2016) forum at the Humphrey School for Public Affairs, legislative leaders, Speaker of the House, Kurt Daudt (R-31A) and Senate Majority Leader, Tom Bakk (SD3), discussed the upcoming legislative session and their positions regarding the 2016 bonding bill proposed by Governor Dayton.

After discussing the process and assuring the audience that he has told his members to “try to put together a bill that really almost everybody in the chamber should want to vote for…something heavy in transportation and infrastructure projects that are of regional or statewide importance…” Speaker Daudt was asked, “The Big Question is: How much money?” by a moderator, to which he responded:

I think we’re open…When Democrats controlled the whole thing they did a bonding bill for about a billion dollars for the biennium – that was the number in the prior when the Republicans had the House/Senate with Gov Dayton.  I think that’s about the 10 year average. I think that’s kind of the number we’re looking at but I’m open if folks decide we don’t want to do it all in borrowing – if we have some cash flexibility, I think that probably makes sense. So we’re open and we’re going to go through the process.  I think $1.4 billion is probably too much, but I don’t know what the number is.

The moderator then asked: “But a billion doesn’t sound incredible to you, I mean, kind of, you know, unimaginable?”

Daudt: No, that’s what has been the 10 year average. I’m more concerned about what’s in the bill than I am about the final number.  I know what everybody has told you about Republicans – I’m supposed to be just dug in and not flexible but…I want to break those stereotypes.

The moderators then turned their attention to Senator Bakk: “The Senate always loves bonding…are you looking at the Governor’s number as being appropriate?  It’s a big number.” Senator Bakk answered:

…It’s true – it’s easier to pass a big bill than a small one.  It is the one area where except for some very unusual circumstances we have to have bipartisan votes in order to get something passed.  I haven’t looked at the spreadsheet on the Governor’s bill yet, so I’m not sure what all is in there…Some people have told me there’s nothing in there for roads and bridges – which would be pretty unusual for the legislature to pass a bonding bill that doesn’t have some kind of local roads and bridges component in it.  So that might make it a little bigger yet, but…

The moderator followed up by asking if Bakk agrees with Daudt – that the content of the bill is what matters more than the amount – if a “billion feel(s) like the right territory” Bakk replied, “Probably a little small…$1.2 billion we can probably get pretty close.”

On the bonding bill it would seem that the Republicans hoping for fiscal restraint may have more of a battle ahead than either the Governor or the Democrats will this session.

(complete video here)