The Potluck

Senate Republicans say infrastructure bill is ‘dead on arrival’ without tax cuts

By: - March 6, 2023 1:15 pm

Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson (center), Sen. Bill Weber, R-Luverne, (left), and Sen. Karin Housley,R-Stillwater, at a press conference about the DFL’s infrastructure package on Monday, March 6. Photo by Michelle Griffith/Minnesota Reformer.

Update: The House passed the $1.9 billion infrastructure package Monday. 

Republicans in the Minnesota Legislature have been largely powerless this year, forced to watch as Democrats have passed a wave of bills that make good on progressive priorities.

When it comes to a big package to improve the state’s infrastructure, however, Republicans have some leverage: The general obligation bonds that lawmakers use to fund those projects require a legislative supermajority, which means Democrats need Republican votes. 

Republicans intend to use their bit of influence to win their top priority: tax cuts.

Senate Republicans on Monday said they plan to withhold their votes on a proposed $1.9 billion infrastructure package up for debate in the House and win tax cuts in exchange.

“We just wanted them (House legislators) to know that the bill is going to be dead on arrival, because we believe we need to see some tax cuts tied to that,” said Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson, R-East Grand Forks. “We’re not up here being obstructionists … What we want to do is have good infrastructure across the state, but also be the kind of state in the nation that attracts workers and employers and you need that through lower taxation.”

The infrastructure package allocates funding to repair and improve Minnesota roads, bridges, hiking trails and water treatment plants, among many critical statewide public work projects. The DFL package includes about $1.5 billion in borrowing through bonds, requiring a supermajority, while $400 million would be in cash, which requires a simple majority.

Johnson said the tax cuts Republicans are looking for are laid out in their tax plan released last week, which includes one-time rebate checks for all Minnesotans, eliminating the state tax on Social Security benefits and slashing the individual income tax. He said Democrats can negotiate on their plan, but their tax proposal “is what Minnesotans want,” Johnson said.

The Legislature failed to pass an infrastructure bill in 2022, and this year’s DFL package is largely similar to last year’s unsuccessful effort. Gov. Tim Walz in January proposed a $3.3 billion infrastructure package.

Democrats for weeks have said they are willing to fund their infrastructure package entirely with cash — which Democrats could do with their trifecta — if they cannot garner the three-fifths supermajority in both chambers needed to approve bonds.

Doing so would cut into the state’s $17.5 billion surplus. 

In the House, 11 Republicans would need to vote alongside all DFL lawmakers to pass a bonding bill; a supermajority in the Senate would require seven Republican votes alongside all DFL senators.

Johnson criticized Democrats’ willingness to fund the infrastructure bill in cash to avert the need for Republican votes.

“Just the idea that they’re going to try to bypass half of the Legislature in order to get an all-cash bill done to avoid giving tax cuts back to Minnesotans — they should be ashamed to even bring that up,” he said.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Michelle Griffith
Michelle Griffith

Michelle Griffith covers Minnesota politics and policy for the Reformer, with a focus on marginalized communities. Most recently she was a reporter with The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead in North Dakota where she covered state and local government and Indigenous issues.