Bonding bill passes Senate

A $367 million bonding bill with $59 million for the University of Minnesota passed the Minnesota Senate on Monday. The bill includes funding for asset preservation and $24 million for a new Bell Museum of Natural History on the St. Paul campus. It passed by a vote of 56-8. Amendments to the bill were argued heavily on the Senate floor prior to passage. Citing the poor economy, Sen. Claire Robling, R-Jordan, had proposed diverting the $24 million for the Bell Museum to the UniversityâÄôs Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement (HEAPR) funding, which she said would be better spent across the state instead of simply in St. Paul. âÄúA new museum is more of a want than a need,âÄù she said. University representatives have testified that the HEAPR funds will be used to improve energy efficiency in University buildings, among other things. Robling’s amendment was voted down. Others argued against the bill, saying it is too costly during the economic downturn. âÄúWe all love to do bonding bills, but this one is too big, itâÄôs too early, and we need to take care of the budget deficit first,âÄù said Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina. The state faces a nearly $6.4 billion budget deficit which Gov. Tim Pawlenty and the Legislature must balance this session. The billâÄôs sponsor, Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL- Glyndon, argued the bill would create at least 5,000 jobs. Funding for the Bell Museum was passed as part of a nearly $925 million bonding bill last session, but was vetoed by Pawlenty. A spokesperson for Pawlenty was not immediately available for comment Monday. The University has received at least $30 million in HEAPR funding during the 2005, 2006, and 2008 legislative sessions. The House of Representatives is considering a bonding bill as well. A bill working through House committees would appropriate $39.5 million for the Bell Museum project. The Senate bill also includes more than $90 million for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, $11 million in funding for polar bear and gorilla exhibits at the Como Zoo, $5 million for a high-speed rail line between St. Paul and Chicago, and $8.4 million for the Central Corridor light-rail line, which would run through campus connecting Minneapolis and St. Paul, among other items. -Devin Henry is a senior staff reporter