Senate Republicans block $1.9 billion infrastructure jobs proposal

IUPAT members (L to R) Tadd Tratar, David Kroger, Jordan Fry and Zach Thoemke rallied for the bonding will with Tim Stender (R) from the Carpenters union.

Before the Minnesota Senate voted today on infrastructure jobs bills worth $1.9 billion, union tradespeople pleaded with Republican members not to hold up the package of local public-works projects as leverage in a political fight with the DFL majority.

“Quit playing little games with my livelihood,” Carpenters Local 1382 member Mandy Reese, from Zumbrota, told lawmakers. “Do your jobs, get back to work and get this bonding bill passed today.”

Unfortunately for Reese and nearly 100 other union members who gathered outside the Senate chambers, most Republicans chose politics over jobs. The bonding proposal, which would see the state borrow $1.5 billion for infrastructure projects, fell shy of the three-fifths majority needed to pass the Senate, despite gaining bipartisan support in the House earlier this month.

The result prompted DFL leaders to scrap plans for a vote on a separate package of infrastructure projects that would be paid for with nearly $400 million from the state’s projected budget surplus.

Sen. Sandy Pappas (D-St. Paul), chair of the Senate Capital Investment Committee, said during a press conference before the vote that if the borrowing bill failed, DFLers in both chambers would begin crafting a new all-cash package, which they could pass with simple majorities.

But that bill is unlikely to be as robust as the two bills they had hoped to approve today, Pappas warned. And because it won’t need a three-fifths margin, the cash bill may also not be as inclusive of Republican spending proposals.

LIUNA Local 563 member Carolyn Wood of Rosemount spoke in support of the $1.9 billion local jobs and projects bills. “By creating good construction jobs, thousands of Minnesotans will gain access to the Trades and a better future like I did, including our young people, more women, people of color and veterans,” she said.

Pappas called the proposal rejected by Republicans today “the fairest and the largest” bonding bill in state history. She touted a 50-50 split between projects funded in metro and rural areas, and singled out proposed transportation, water-treatment and public-safety projects in GOP-represented districts.

“Frankly, it’s embarrassing for me to go back to these communities time after time, year after year, and they’re still waiting” for lawmakers to fund local capital projects, Pappas said.

As for an all-cash bill, she added, “I don’t know if it can be as balanced” as the borrowing proposal.

On the Senate floor, Minority Leader Mark Johnson (R-East Grand Forks) recognized the strong support from organized labor for the infrastructure jobs bill, calling out several unions by name. But he said support from Republican leaders hinged on inclusion of tax relief.

“We wanted to help you,” Johnson said. “We Republicans wanted to get these projects done in the state of Minnesota. We have one simple request. Let’s get this done, but let’s ensure Minnesotans are taken care of as well, make sure that they have tax relief, make sure that we know what’s happening in our fiscal policy.”

The construction season is approaching quickly, and Minnesota’s asset upkeep falls further behind schedule – and costs continue to increase – each time lawmakers fail to act on a bonding bill, as they have since October 2020.

“We shouldn’t be talking about these projects,” said Bradley Peterson, director of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities. “We should be talking about the next round of projects.”

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