The Republican-led House stood behind a ban on public funding for Zip Rail despite an attempt by a Rochester lawmaker to get rid of it.
Tucked within a bill that cuts $2 billion in taxes is language that would prohibit any spending by the state, county, city or Destination Medical Center on a proposed high-speed rail line from Rochester to the Twin Cities. It would also block the use of eminent domain for the project.
DFL Rep. Kim Norton tried unsuccessfully to strip the Zip Rail language out of the tax bill, saying it wouldn't allow the city or county to plan for a potential high-speed rail line.
"I just think this is wrong. There are potential unintended consequences," Norton said.
But Mazeppa Republican Rep. Steve Drazkowski urged his colleagues to uphold the rail funding ban. He said he worked with representatives from the North American High Speed Rail Group to make sure his bill wouldn't prevent the company from building the line with private money.
"We fully give the ability of the private sector to do what they would do best if they believe this infeasible project is feasible, and it makes certain that we don't squander taxpayer resources," Drazkowski said.
The House defeated Norton's amendment to get rid of the Zip Rail funding ban on a voice vote. Olmsted County Board Chairman Paul Wilson said he was disappointed by the vote. In a letter passed out to lawmakers, Wilson said the House bill would prevent any public oversight of the 90-mile project until it is completed.
"It impedes the local government and its partnership with the private sector," Wilson said. "To me, one of the tenants of good Republicanism is local control and working with the private sector."
The Senate tax bill does not include the ban on public funding for Zip Rail. That means members of a House and Senate conference committee will have to decide whether to keep the language or get rid of it. Wilson said he's not giving up on his fight to block the Zip Rail language adding, "It's not over until it's over."