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Minnesota legislative leaders, Walz say they'll press forward with bonding bill

The news comes after a key legislative leader said he would block the bill if Walz didn't drop his emergency powers.

Minnesota House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt
Minnesota House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown.
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ST. PAUL — Legislative leaders and the governor on Monday, May 4, said they'd press forward with a borrowing bill to fund public construction projects despite new conditions imposed over the weekend by a key lawmaker.

House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, over the weekend said he would block the proposal unless the governor discontinued his emergency authority spurred by the coronavirus pandemic. The move was aimed at giving lawmakers a stronger say in COVID-19 response measures.

The dust-up over executive authority came days after Gov. Tim Walz announced his plans to extend the state's stay-at-home order through May 18 with some changes aimed at allowing businesses to offer sales and services curbside or by delivery. Minnesotans have been under the order since March 27 and Republican lawmakers have pressed the governor for a faster reopening of sectors of the economy hit by the pandemic and orders aimed to limit it.

The minorities in both legislative chambers hold more power during discussions about the bonding bill because their votes are needed to meet the threshold needed to approve the borrowing.

“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," Daudt said in a news release.

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Walz told reporters that the House minority could block a bonding bill if they wanted to but said he felt confident there could be bipartisan agreement on the bill. He also defended his executive actions during the peacetime emergency and said if some of the response was left up to the divided Legislature, it likely wouldn't have gotten done in a timely fashion.

“If we had to wait to make some of the decisions we’ve made, I don’t think we could’ve ever got there," Walz said. "At this point in time, I would argue that authority is moving us in a direction that is flattening the curve."

Other legislative leaders said they'd push to get a bonding bill approved before the Legislature adjourns on May 18.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said he would prioritize a bonding bill without requiring Walz to cede his executive authority. But he said Senate Republicans wanted the Legislature to have more authority over how the state spent nearly $2 billion in federally allocated funds to respond to the pandemic in Minnesota.

“There’s a lot of push in Minnesota, I’m pushing the governor, and I think it’s really important that we have oversight of those federal dollars,” Gazelka said.

House Speaker Melissa Hortman, D-Brooklyn Park, said Daudt had backed himself into a corner with his comment and said she didn't think it was constructive to increase "the war of words with the minority leader at this point in time."

Legislative leaders had agreed that lawmakers should pass a bonding bill this year but disagreed on how much it would cost and how many projects they could approve. House Democrats have said they hope to approve a public infrastructure package in excess or $2 billion, while Senate Republicans have said they'd prefer to keep the borrowing around $755 million. Walz earlier this year came out with a $2.6 billion proposal.

Universities and colleges, local governments, state agencies and others earlier this year put in requests for projects that exceeded $5.3 billion in total.

Dana Ferguson is a Minnesota Capitol Correspondent for Forum News Service. Ferguson has covered state government and political stories since she joined the news service in 2018, reporting on the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the divided Statehouse and the 2020 election.
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