House State Capitol renovation bonding bill fails

By T.W. Budig, ECM Capitol reporter

A $221 million bonding bill dedicated to long-term, State Capitol renovation crashed on the House floor Thursday, April 19, after the final vote to pass it failed to appear.

“It’s not for me to talk to them (Democrats),” said House Capital Investment Committee Chairman Larry Howes, R-Walker, after watching his bonding bill fail on an 80 – 50 vote.

Although initially believing enough Democratic votes would be forthcoming to pass his bill, about halfway through the House floor debate he realized the bill would fail, Howes said.

Howes, like House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, blamed Democrats for the bill crashing.

Howes suggested House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, had gone back on his word on getting enough Democratic votes to pass the bill.

The crashing of a bill dedicate to State Capitol renovation, said Zellers, is “embarrassing” to Minnesotans.

“I think that’s a new low for even House Democrats,” Zellers said.

But Thissen said that he had spoken of getting eleven Democratic votes for the bill and he delivered.

“He’s (Howes) absolutely wrong,” said Thissen of the charge that he had broken his word.

“I’m still hopeful,” said Thissen of passing a bonding bill.

Theoretically, Republicans could have passed the bill with the 11 Democratic votes.

But one Republican, Rep. Mark Buesgens, R-Jordan, voted against the bill.

Two Republicans, Rep. Kurt Bills, R-Rosemount, and Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, did not vote.

Bills, a candidate for the U.S. Senate, is listed as a confirmed participant at a candidate forum sponsored by Bemidji Republicans at a Bemidji Eagles Club this evening.

Unlike the Senate Republicans who’ve advanced the customary single bonding bill — a $500 million effort slating $25 million towards State Capitol renovation — House Republicans produced two bills.

The $221 million bill is entirely devoted to funding a proposed five-year renovation of the century-old State Capitol.

“I want this to be clean — bipartisan,” said Howes of the bill.

Renovating the State Capitol in fits and starts can add as much as ten percent to overall costs, he said.

Republicans are proposing a second, $280 million bonding bill containing a number of area projects.

But Democrats on the House floor expressed unease with the Republican two-bill approach.

Rep. Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, asked whether Republicans were “playing games.”

Why is so much money being allocated toward Capitol improvements, she asked, when it won’t be spent this year.

Other Democrats expressed frustration.

Rep, Michael Nelson, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said voters wouldn’t understand why bonding dollars were flowing solely to the Capitol.

“‘You fund your building, but you didn’t fund anything else,’” voters will think, said Nelson.

Two area Democrats who voted against the bill, Rep. Steve Simon of St. Louis Park and Rep. Ryan Winkler of Golden Valley, in statements both criticized the bill for failing to fund important area projects.

“All of us believe the Capitol is a state treasure that must be fixed, but we have a long list of important regional bonding projects — like the Southwest Light Rail Line — and it doesn’t make any sense to tie up $220 million when most of that money won’t be spent for years,” said Winkler in the statement.

House Majority Leader Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, spoke movingly of delighting grade school children visiting the State Capitol by telling them the building did not belong to the governor, nor the Speaker, but to them.

Dean, an architect by profession, spoke of Minnesotans readily becoming State Capitol snobs through the beauty of their State Capitol.

A century ago, it must have been absolutely “dazzling” for people accustomed to the frontier to gaze on the Capitol, he said.

Capitol architect Cass Gilbert obviously took great care in planning the structure, Dean said.

Other states simply lack such gleaming Capitols, Dean said.

He specifically mentioned the North Dakota State Capitol as being more rudimentary than showy.

“It’s like, ‘State Farm Insurance called — they want their building back,’” quipped Dean.

In making the quip, Dean later said, he was thinking of Zellers, a North Dakota native.

Zellers  jokingly styled Dean’s comment as so much snobbery from an architect.

Some people kind of like starkness, said Zellers.

The North Dakota State Capitol is referred to as “The Skyscraper on the Prairie.”

But a tower in the state is taller.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton supports the Republican Capitol renovation bill, but also looks to passage of his $775 bonding bill.

The Republican Senate bonding bill has yet to hit the Senate floor.