The bill that will decide which University of Minnesota construction projects will get state funding passed through the Senate Tuesday with the University’s provisions in place.
As promised, the governor is already threatening to veto it.
The DFL-controlled Senate approved the nearly $1 billion bonding bill with no changes made to University of Minnesota system construction projects from its recommendations made in the initial bill released last week.
The bill maintained that the University be allotted $111.3 million, including full funding for the renovation of Folwell Hall, an American Indian learning center in Duluth, a new Itasca biological research station and systemwide science lab renovations.
In a letter sent to capital investment committee chairs Tuesday morning preceding the Senate vote, Gov. Tim Pawlenty, R-Minn., called both chambers’ bills “unaffordable, irresponsible and filled with local projects.”
The governor warned that a final bill not in line with his proposal “risked being vetoed in its entirety rather than just line-item vetoes.”
After initial motions by Senate Republicans to send the bill back to the Capital Investment Committee for revisions, parts of the bill were debated and resulted in almost no changes before passing 52-14. The bill garnered nearly half the Republican votes and support from all but two Democrats.
DFLers pushed the bill’s emphasis on job creation, while Republicans argued the bill would add to the state deficit.
“This is spending money we don’t have,” said Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina, on the floor, after motioning to have the bill re-referred to committees for more work. “When you’re in a deep hole, you shouldn’t keep digging.”
Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, the chair of the Capital Investment Committee, defended University projects in the bill and said all of the projects on the list will need to be done at some point.
“Why not do it now?” he said.
The bill also provided $65 million in Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement for general campus maintenance and $5 million for a new physics and nanotechnology building to get initial planning and design underway.
Last month, the governor’s version of the bill included the full $53 million in funding the University requested for the physics building — a project some senators say isn’t likely to get underway for another two years, defeating the bill’s purpose of jumpstarting job creation.
“The situation simply is that the focus is on immediate jobs and catching this spring construction season,” said Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, in a floor speech. “We want to put people to work right away.”
Pappas said she supports funding the planning money for the facility with the understanding that the project will get full funding in the next bonding bill.
Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, sided with the governor’s recommendation of full funding for the building, calling the project “one of the only true job creators.”
“It’s going to bring in real jobs and create real momentum in the state,” Rosen said in a floor speech.
But in the end, no changes were made to the initial funding recommendations for the building.
Also on Tuesday, a House committee approved its version of the bonding bill, which includes more than $77 million for University projects.
When the full House votes to approve the bill, which could happen as early as next week, the two versions will be combined into one and presented to the governor.