With UMN projects on the line, lawmakers debate infrastructure proposals

The House failed to pass a bonding bill Saturday as the session nears an end.

Students from the University of Minnesota campuses including the Twin Cities, Crookston and Morris gather on the steps for a rally at the Minnesota State Capitol on Wednesday, April 3 as a part of Support the U Day.

Tony Saunders

Students from the University of Minnesota campuses including the Twin Cities, Crookston and Morris gather on the steps for a rally at the Minnesota State Capitol on Wednesday, April 3 as a part of Support the U Day.

Madeline Deninger

The Minnesota House failed to pass a capital infrastructure bill Saturday, leaving the Legislature with one more day to come to an agreement. 

The University of Minnesota is asking for $317.2 million for projects in the bonding bill. The bill taken up by the House would have funded around $161 million of that ask, but it failed to receive a three-fifths majority vote required to pass. Republican lawmakers raised concerns about the size of the bill, which totaled around $2 billion. 

House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, brought up the state’s current budget deficit of around $2.4 billion, a drastic change from the state’s $1.5 billion surplus before the COVID-19 pandemic. Daudt also recently stated he would not support a bonding bill as long as Gov. Tim Walz continued using emergency powers. 

“We have to be responsible,” Daudt said on the House floor. “We as a body need to look at the entire picture for the state of Minnesota, and we cannot afford this.” 

Rep. Mary Murphy, DFL-Hermantown, chair of the House Capital Investment Division, said projects in the bill would fund needs across the state, including at higher education institutions. Murphy and other Democrats also pointed to jobs the bill could create. 

“At the colleges and universities that we visited across the state, I had never seen an attitude that was so hopeful and sure,” Murphy said during debate. “The participants that were in the classes that we met up with, they were so sure they were doing the right thing and studying the right program.” 

The Senate Capital Investment Committee also put forward a bonding bill Saturday, which would fund $85 million of the University’s ask. The bill is just under $1 billion in total. Sen. David Senjem, R-Rochester, chair of the committee, said he won’t support it getting any bigger.

“It’s a matter of trying to weigh priorities and trying to take priorities on that we felt were the kind of priorities that would bring on jobs,” Senjem said. 

Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, said the bill underfunds some key areas, including higher education. The bill also allocates $85 million to the Minnesota State system.  

“I am just so disappointed in the amount you’ve put into higher education,” Pappas said. 

The Legislature must adjourn the regular session by Monday at midnight.