Minnesota House approves $1.9 billion tax cuts, public works borrowing bill, 100-34

The measure attracted 25 GOP votes and now heads to the Minnesota Senate.

The Minnesota State Capitol. Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

Democrats in the Minnesota House loaded up a major public works bill with projects in more than a dozen Republican districts in hopes of securing at least six GOP votes needed Wednesday to pass a $1.9 billion package of tax cuts and public works borrowing. 

In the end, they secured 25 before adjourning sine die, meaning they’ll head home.

Democratic-Farmer-Labor legislative leaders said they hoped after months of protracted negotiations that the addition of new projects would persuade some Republicans to break with their caucus, which publicly opposed the plan. 

The high stakes effort — even as Minnesotans have already begun voting on the next crop of 201 legislislators — seeks to inject money into the ailing Minnesota economy with tax cuts and public works spending in advance of the spring construction season. Much of the spending would go toward roads, bridges, water infrastructure and projects on university campuses. 

The projects added to win GOP votes included $6 million for improvements to the Lake Byllesby Dam in Dakota County in a district represented by Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington. Another addition included $3.1 million to the city of Hutchinson for Campbell and Otter lakes restoration projects in a district represented by Glenn Gruenhagen, R-Glencoe. Yet another $260,000 for water quality improvements to Orchard Lake in Lakeville, a project in a district represented by state Rep. Jon Koznick, R-Lakeville.

The effort paid off. 

The Minnesota House easily passed the legislation, 100-34, picking up more than two dozen GOP votes, more than four times what they needed. The measure now heads to the Minnesota Senate Thursday.

After a marathon floor session that ended late Wednesday night, Rep. Mary Murphy, DFL-Hermantown, said the legislation reflected months of work.

“This bill connects Minnesota,” said Murphy, chair of the House Capital Investment Division. “This bill is full of Minnesota values.”

Garofalo voted against the legislation, even though it included two projects in his district.  

“To me it doesn’t matter how many goodies they cram into the bill,” he said. “I’m an old school conservative. I think we should pay for it. The fact that we are three weeks from an election doesn’t change that.”

It is unclear whether the GOP-controlled Senate will approve the legislation, despite assurances by DFL legislative leaders that a deal had been reached with Republicans in the Senate.

State Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, on Twitter urged the House not to adjourn.

“There were changes made without agreed upon language,” Benson wrote. “The Senate deserves a chance to voice our concerns. This is too important for a take-it-or-leave-it negotiating tactic.”

Gov. Tim Walz heralded the passage of the bill.

“It’s great to see the Minnesota House come together to pass a bonding bill tonight,” he wrote on Twitter. “This means hundreds of good-paying jobs, local projects in every corner of our state, and a big boost to our economy. Minnesota is ready for the Senate to finish the job.”

Even as lawmakers debated the package of borrowing, tax cuts and spending, the state’s budget outlook remains perilous, as the Legislature is expected to face a budget deficit of nearly $5 billion for the next two-year budget cycle. 

Under the state Constitution, legislation authorizing the state to borrow money for capital improvement projects must originate in the House and pass with a 60% supermajority, meaning the DFL majority cannot pass it without GOP votes. Tax bills are also required to originate in the House. 

The legislative package also includes one-time cash appropriations for state law enforcement agencies, including the State Patrol and Department of Natural Resources, which deployed officers to help quell the civil unrest this summer following the police killing of George Floyd. 

Nearly $10 million is included in the bill to help defray costs related to the rioting and arson that racked the Twin Cities metro, half of which is paid for by the trunk highway fund. The remainder is from the state’s general fund.

A tax bill would also provide cuts intended to help farmers, allowing them a tax deduction for certain property, and it would be retroactive to 2018. 

Debate on Wednesday over the legislation brought its usual political theater, including efforts by Republicans to amend the bill with provisions requiring funding levels to remain at 2019 levels for the Minneapolis Police Department. Republicans have sought to win suburban votes by stressing crime, and efforts by the Minneapolis City Council to transform its Police Department. 

Rep. Jim Nash, R-Waconia, said that if the state were to agree to fund an outdoor concert venue at the Upper Harbor Terminal in North Minneapolis — which was included in the construction projects bill — the money should be contingent on the city agreeing to maintain funding levels for the Minneapolis Police Department at least at the 2019 funding levels. 

The amendment was defeated.

Ricardo Lopez
Ricardo Lopez is the senior political reporter for the Reformer. Ricardo is not new to Minnesota politics, previously reporting on the Dayton administration and statehouse for The Star Tribune from 2014 to 2017, and the Republican National Convention in 2016. Previously, he was a staff writer at The Los Angeles Times covering the California economy. He's a Las Vegas native who has adopted Minnesota as his home state. In his spare time, he likes to run, cook and volunteer with Save-a-Bull, a Minneapolis dog rescue group.