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Lewis & Clark out of House bonding bill

WORTHINGTON — According to District 22B Rep. Rod Hamilton, the Lewis & Clark Regional Water project may be left out of the Minnesota House of Representative’s bonding bill.

Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, said he was informed Friday by Capital Investment Chair Rep. Alice Hausman that funding for the Lewis & Clark Regional Water System would not be included.

Hamilton said he is not pleased with the news.

“I’m fired up,” he said, adding that he — along with District 22A Rep. Joe Schomacker and District 22 Sen. Bill Weber, both Luverne Republicans — have been pushing hard to include the project.

“Everybody has been working openly and honestly on a bipartisan basis with the governor and leadership in both the House and the Senate,” Hamilton said. “We came out early on and said we’re going to support a bonding bill. Even if they win out to the level that the governor is talking about.”

Gov. Mark Dayton had expressed that if a $1.2 billion bonding bill was proposed, Lewis & Clark would be funded for $69 million, which would be enough to complete the project through to Worthington.

The proposed bonding bill in the House is currently around $850 million, which had included $20 million for Lewis & Clark — enough to connect Luverne. There are currently no Minnesota entities connected to Lewis & Clark, despite the fact all have paid their share for the project.

Hamilton said that Hausman indicated Friday that there would no money for Lewis & Clark if the bonding bill remained at its current state.

“That’s what she said on the House floor,” Hamilton said. “She said Speaker (Paul) Thissen is putting a bill together, and the message back from him is that we don’t have the money to do this project.

“It’s coming down to House leadership. That’s where we need the governor to hold firm and stick by his promise. We need Speaker Thissen to cut the partisan politics and ‘how about you embrace your friends versus throwing your friends under the bus.”’

Thissen confirmed Monday that the project is out of the bill.

“I would be very happy to fund the Lewis & Clark project,” Thissen said. “I understand its importance. The deal that was made last year for the bonding bill was that it was at $846 million and would only include the Republican projects that were included in the legislation last year. We have had many discussions with Republican leadership and others about growing the bonding bill above the $846 million to accommodate additional projects, both Democratic and Republican.”

Thissen said the Republicans have been unwilling to move the dollar amount.

“Unfortunately, the Republican leadership wants to stick by their deal, and that only those Republican projects from last year would be included in this year’s bonding bill,” he said. “I’m still open to having a bigger bonding bill that would be able to accommodate a number of important projects across the state, including Lewis & Clark. So far, the Republicans have shut the door on that.”

While some Republicans have balked at a larger bonding bill, Hamilton said he would support one if it means Lewis & Clark would be included.

“I’m saying yes, absolutely,” he said. “If this project is 100 percent funded, absolutely. The original Republican projects that were originally agreed upon would need to be in there as well.”

Thissen said he believes Hamilton would support the larger bill.

“I have no doubt that he would,” Thissen said. “The Republican leadership is not willing to support him on that. That really is the linchpin to the whole situation.

“There’s a couple billion dollars of very valuable projects across the state, and we just need to make sure we get a bonding bill passed,” Thissen continued. “The way you do that is making investments in the communities whose representatives are willing to stand up. In this case, the Republican leadership has said, ‘We don’t have the votes to do a bill that would accommodate Lewis & Clark.”’

But, if the project isn’t included, Hamilton said he could not support the bill.

“Absolutely not; it’s coming down to principle now,” Hamilton said. “I understand the importance of being a statesman. With that said, if the people of southwestern Minnesota are promised and they go back on a promise, it’s the principle of the thing. It’s standing up for the people who have so graciously sent me up to St. Paul to represent them.”

Hamilton said he needs help from constituents in southwest Minnesota.

“Here’s what I’m asking everybody to do, I’m asking them to call two phone numbers,” he said. “The first one is Speaker Thissen, and that number is (651) 296-5375. The other number is Gov. Dayton, and that is 1-800-657-3717. Let’s have everybody call in and not only ask for support, but ask for the funding, make sure this project is funded in the bonding bill. Just keep it simple; thank the governor for his commitment early on this project and ask that he stands behind it as the bonding bill is put together.

“Speaker Thissen, just let him know this is absolutely critical for the folks down in southwestern Minnesota that this project is funded,” Hamilton continued. “Not just supported, but funded. If they come back and say we need Republican votes, say, ‘You’re in luck, our reps are Republicans.”’

Thissen said this would be the best time for more borrowing.

“In this case, it would be going up $20 million, so an $866 million bonding bill would accommodate the Lewis & Clark project,” he said. “It is a large investment for the state to be making. On the other hand, interest rates are low. It is a good time to be doing these kinds of projects.”

Hamilton again stressed the importance of the project.

“It is absolutely vital. It’s vital for our economy, it’s vital for our businesses, for our people,” he said. “It’s absolutely vital that we get this project done. I’m passionate about it. It does remind me about the whole Highway 60 thing, and that is why I’m so fired up about this.”

While Hamilton said he is working to convince his fellow Republicans to vote for a larger bill, he won’t stop fighting for the project.

“There is an 850-page Lewis & Clark project description on the website,” he said. “ I’ll filibuster the dang thing and read the entire thing on the House floor if I have to. It’s that important to us down in southwest Minnesota.”

Community Content Coordinator Aaron Hagen may be reached at 376-7323.