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Legislative bonding bills stall

ST. PAUL -- Passing a public works funding bill, for projects like constructing buildings and fixing state facilities, may be tough this year.

As Minnesota legislators left on an extended Passover-Easter break Thursday, there was no sign how the so-called bonding bill can pass.

In the House, for instance, Capital Investment Chairman Larry Howes, R-Walker, said he cannot get enough Democratic votes to pass his $280 million proposal, but cannot get the Republican votes needed to pass one the size of the Senate plan, nearly $500 million. Majority Republicans do not by themselves have the 81 votes needed to pass a so-called bonding bill.

The top House Democrat on Thursday alleged that Howes has not reached out for his caucus' support. Howes strongly denied that.

"I'm the last one they ever should accuse of that," said Howes, known for working with both parties.

House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said there has not been outreach from Republicans, who control the Legislature, to Democrats during either the drafting of the bills or since they were released.

He said Howes has not discussed the bonding bill with him. He called that "surprising" but said he suspected it was because Howes doesn't "have control over the bill."

Howes said he has met with all Democratic-Farmer-Laborites on his Capital Investment Committee and at least a dozen times walked into the office of Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, the lead Democrat on his committee.

"I believe the Democrats simply want a larger bill," Howes said.

While the House bill would spend $280 million and the Senate one $500 million, Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton wants $775 million.

"It's a general expectation in the second year of the biennium" that lawmakers will approve a bonding bill, Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, said.

But he said right now "there's a little bit of uncertainty" on what will happen with the proposals this year.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said he is frustrated that while bonding bills have made their way through committees, they have not yet been taken up by the full Senate or House. He said if it is not going to get done this session, Republicans who control the Legislature should say so.

The House version of a separate bonding bill to renovate the Capitol building could face trouble in the Senate.

"Spending $220 million on a single bill is going to be difficult for us," Senjem said about a Howes bill awaiting House consideration.

Senjem included $25 million Capitol work in his bill. Dayton did not include any Capitol funding in his proposal, but supports the entire $241 million project.

While the public works bills face difficulty, House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said it is too early to declare them dead.

"We had bills that took a lot longer than anticipated," he said, citing lengthy discussions on a game and fish bill and a proposal allowing more powerful fireworks.