Legislators are scrambling to get a package of tax cuts and a bill with additional spending to DFL Gov. Mark Dayton's desk. The House has already passed a bill loaded with $260 million in tax cuts. The Senate has yet to take up the measure. The DFL-led Senate and GOP-led House have reached a deal on $300 million in new spending. It includes $25 million for pre-kindergarten — a budget "must-have" for DFL Gov. Mark Dayton, and $35 million for broadband infrastructure and $35 million to tackle racial economic disparities.
What's more unclear is the fate of a construction borrowing bill and transportation funding. Hopes for a long-term transportation funding package dimmed over the weekend. In the House Ways and Means Committee on Sunday night, Chairman Jim Knoblach, R-St Cloud, said the House is raising its target for a construction borrowing bill, also known as a bonding bill, to $995 million. Initially, House Republicans wanted $800 million for bonding and Senate Democrats were pushing for $1.5 billion.
The Houses Ways and Means Committee approved adding $300 million in cash and $300 million in borrowing to the bill for one-time transportation spending. Lawmakers have agreed that $600 million per year is need to address the state's transportation needs. But originally, the goal had been to pass a 10-year funding plan.
Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, said rank-and-file lawmakers have been left in the dark and will be having to make decisions on massive bills with little time to review them.
"What really makes me worried is it's going to be a real repeat of last year when we don't get to see these things until there are moments left and then we're forced to make a snap decision on millions of dollars in spending," Liebling said.
As of 6:30 p.m., Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, had still not seen a final bonding proposal emerge. Senjem serves on the House-Senate conference committee that has been charged with trying to put a bill together.
So what are the odds a bonding bill gets done in time? Senjem estimates there is a "68.5 percent chance the stars come together and white smoke flows off the top of the Capitol."
Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, said she is optimistic that lawmakers can get all their work done before the clock strikes midnight. As for the idea of $600 million in one-time transportation funding, Nelson said, "It is better than nothing. I am a firm believer in that you don't get everything you want."
Rep. Kim Norton, DFL-Rochester, said she is disheartened at the idea of lawmakers going with a one-time funding fix instead of a comprehensive, long-term solution.
"It's an absolute joke," Norton said. "That is not what this state needs."