May 9, 2024 - Politics

Infrastructure funding hangs in the balance as legislative session nears end

Illustration of the state of MN, with scaffolding.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

State lawmakers have just over a week left to broker a bipartisan deal to unlock hundreds of millions of dollars for local infrastructure projects.

The big picture: The capital investment package, also known as the bonding bill, is the biggest item on lawmakers' to-do list this year. Because it involves borrowing money, it requires a three-fifths vote.

  • That gives minority Republicans leverage to shape the list and cost of included projects and secure other concessions from majority Democrats.

Threat level: Tensions over a DFL state senator charged with felony burglary have complicated the already tenuous talks, with just six voting days before adjournment.

  • Senate Republicans have demanded that Sen. Nicole Mitchell be prevented from continuing to vote on the floor.
  • Republican Leader Mark Johnson said Wednesday that Democrats are "jeopardizing the ability" to get the bonding deal done by allowing her to vote on bills that only have DFL support in the 34-33 Senate.

State of play: Regarding what's on the table, leaders on both sides say they want to focus on investing in "state asset preservation" — think money for roads, aging campus buildings, prisons, and water treatment facilities.

Friction points: How much to borrow, what kind of projects make the cut (Republicans don't want this year's package to fund nonprofits, for example), and what else to include as part of a broader deal.

  • Johnson said the GOP had requested a concession that all four leaders be required to sign off on bills that get a floor vote in the session's final weeks, which Democrats rebuffed.

The intrigue: Democrats themselves also disagree about what should go in the final draft.

Inside the room: Negotiations have picked up in recent weeks, as caucus leaders staked their positions over crabcakes and shrimp cocktails late last month at Pittsburgh Blue Steakhouse.

  • Last week, they discussed offers over pastries and eggs Benedict at Walz's residence.

Yes, but: As of Wednesday, no additional formal meetings among all four leaders were planned, aides from both camps confirmed.

Reality check: It isn't unusual for a bonding deal to come together in the final days of the session.

  • "This is the time of year where it always looks like there's no way … [people say] 'How's that going to happen?'" House Speaker Melissa Hortman told reporters last week. "And it almost always does."

The bottom line: The May 20 adjournment deadline means legislators have until 11:59pm on Sunday, May 19 to get the package done.

Go deeper: Everything you need to know about Minnesota's "bonding bill"

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