Bonding bill sparks bipartisanship

It may have surprised some Minnesotans that House Republicans came out with a public works funding bill close to what the generally freer spending Senate Democrats proposed.

It may have surprised some Minnesotans that House Republicans came out with a public works funding bill close to what the generally freer spending Senate Democrats proposed.

The GOP bill would borrow $949 million, just $41 million less than Senate Democrats, that would be repaid by general tax dollars. Gov. Tim Pawlenty, another Republican, calls for a relatively diminutive $811 borrowing package.

But there are a couple of reasons the House GOP had no choice but to put forward a big public works package -- politics and politics.

Political reason No. 1 is that Republicans need more votes to pass the bill than they alone can provide. With a 68-66 edge, and a requirement that a super majority of House members must approve the measure, they had to reach across the political aisle.

Republicans alone want a lot of construction projects on their area college campuses, trails and other facilities. If they could pass the bill by themselves, the bill would have been smaller, much closer to the Pawlenty proposal.


However, they had to reach into Democratic-Farmer-Labor districts to find projects so the minority party would come on board. That stretched the bill.

Political reason No. 2 that the bill -- which will be funded by the state selling bonds -- ended up so big: It is an election year.

Incumbents nearly always have an advantage in elections. But legislative incumbents have a special edge over challengers when they can tell voters they are bringing home money for construction projects.

The bonding bill is dropping out of headlines this year because it is so noncontroversial. At least it is out of state headlines. Locally, especially after the legislative session ends, legislators seeking re-election will be touting all they did for their districts.

House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, said in announcing the bonding bill that putting events centers in Bemidji and Duluth -- both represented by Democrats -- in the measure "is the right thing to do." That may be an embellishment. The decision really was the political thing to do, a method to get enough votes to pass the bill.

House Republicans have not been good at recruiting DFL votes since they took control in 1999. More often than not on major issues, Democrats were alienated by GOP rhetoric.

This year things are different. With just a two-member advantage, Republicans are in a position that they cannot lose any of their members on a vote. But with as diverse a group as they have, it is nearly impossible to retain everyone on divisive issues.

House Minority Leader Matt Entenza, DFL-St. Paul, is proud these days to claim power to defeat many an issue. If his Democrats stick together, and one or two Republicans flake off, he is in essence the majority leader for a while.


Sviggum and Entenza often are on different pages, but for this session to end successfully, the speaker must reach out to the Entenza clan. Even though the bonding bill is the big issue this year, lawmakers want several others to pass, too. For that to happen, we need to see true bipartisanism, not just leaders voicing the word "bipartisan."

To that end, people who want to see legislative accomplishments should hope the bonding bill is more than just a one-verse song.

The House Capital Investment Committee's top Democrat, Rep. Alice Hausman of St. Paul, said the bonding bill will be met with a "lovefest." Maybe. But it is a politically influenced and shaky lovefest.

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