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State jobs bill held hostage by Republican legislators

From the Minneapolis Labor Review, May 29, 2020

By Steve Share, Minneapolis Labor Review editor

SAINT PAUL — The 2020 session of the Minnesota legislature adjourned May 18 but failed to take care of one of the top agenda items: passing a bonding bill to invest in state infrastructure and create jobs.

DFL and Republican legislators repeated a familiar debate about the size of a proposed bonding package. DFLers wanted a bigger package. Republicans supported a smaller level of investment and job creation.

But this year brought a new twist: Republican legislative leaders said they would not support a bonding package unless Governor Tim Walz first terminated the  emergency executive orders he has used to direct the state’s response to the COVID-19 crisis.

That tack drew a sharp rebuke from some of the state’s building trades unions, who normally strive to be as bi-partisan as possible at the legislature, especially when it comes to passing a bonding bill.

“We are disappointed that for the second year in a row, the Legislature, specifically the House Republican Caucus, failed to support a large infrastructure bill that would have created up to 30,000 construction jobs on local projects across the state,” said Joel Smith, president and business manager of LIUNA Minnesota and North Dakota.

“Now is not the time for our jobs and our community’s infrastructure needs to be used as leverage,” said John Raines, executive secretary-treasurer of the North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters. “I urge all legislative leaders, who have expressed support for bonding since the end of the 2019 legislative session, to sit down and work out a substantial bonding bill as soon as possible. Our members and our state are counting on you.”

“A strong bonding bill is critical to helping our state recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and to jump start our economy,” the Minnesota State Building and Construction Trades Council declared, writing April 14 to legislative leaders. “Funding needed asset preservation, community development, energy efficiency, clean water, and safe roads, bridges, and transit systems will serve Minnesota communities and businesses and help get goods to market and put Minnesotans to work.”

“There are over $5.2 billion in unmet need for over 500 public construction projects across our State,” the letter continued. “Even conservative estimates indicate that this level of economic investment can put tens of thousands of Minnesotans to work. A balanced approach to funding building, water and road infrastructure, and prioritizing shovel-ready projects will allow the state to maximize its bonding power to provide on-going economic stimulus to the areas.”

The State Building Trades Council’s website — mntrades.org — showcases links to editorials from newspapers across the state calling for action on a bonding bill.

Yet Republican House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt sent out a news release May 4 announcing: “the legislature will not be passing a bonding bill while the governor’s emergency powers remain in effect. A bonding bill requires a three-fifths majority, or 81 votes, and must originate in the House.”

The Minnesota House currently includes 75 DFL House members and 59 Republican members. Even if all DFLers voting for a bonding bill, the votes of six Republicans would be needed to pass it.

Daudt’s May 4 announcement continued: “House Republicans are ready and willing to work with the governor on the COVID response, keeping people safe, and on a bonding bill, but it’s time for the governor to work with the legislature on our path forward.  The governor needed his emergency powers to navigate the fast-moving crisis, but after two months of unilateral power and decision-making it’s time for him to work with us on decisions and actions regarding the future of the state.”

May 15 the DFL’s $2 billion bonding bill came up for a floor vote. Republican leader Daudt made good on his threat. The vote was a strict party line vote, 75 DFL votes for, 58 Republican votes against, and did not meet the three-fifths threshold. The bill therefore failed.

A statement from Operating Engineers Local 49, took both sides to task: “The time for partisan rhetoric is over. We call on Governor Walz and majority and minority legislative leaders to get in a room (virtually, if needed) and find a deal on infrastructure investment. There are no more excuses. The next time the legislature meets, this deal should already be done, and the bill should be passed. ”

Local 49 business manager Jason George commented: “Instead of sabotaging votes or using a bonding bill as trade bait, the four caucus leaders and the Governor must find a way to get a deal on infrastructure spending. There should be no higher priority as they negotiate a special session agenda.”

As the Labor Review went to press May 25, the date for a special session of the legislature had not yet been announced.

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