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FIFTH TIME AROUND: Minnesota House struggles to approve bonding bill

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Minnesota state capitol in Saint Paul

ST. PAUL, Minn. (KTTC) -- The Minnesota House was expected to vote Wednesday on a much-anticipated $1.36 billion bonding bill. It's the main focus of a fifth special legislative session in St. Paul. Many lawmakers went into Wednesday's proceedings confident that a bonding bill will finally pass this time around.

Other priorities got in the way of the bonding bill not getting passed in the normal session plus the four previous special sessions. Now, the bonding bill is taking center stage at the state capitol.

"I've been talking with Senator Senjem (R, Rochester) and he has assured me that if the bill is sent from the house, they have the votes in the senate," said Rochester Mayor Kim Norton. "The fact that they're hearing it is a good sign."

It is a good sign, especially for some projects in Rochester.

"The good news about our projects is that they have been broadly supported by our legislators. They are not new projects," Norton said. "They have been around for a number of years. We had hoped to have them a year or so ago."

One of the projects on the bonding bill is a runway safety project at Rochester International Airport (RST).

"It's a really significant project," said Tiana O'Connor, marketing manager at RST. "The cost is nearly 80 million dollars."

The Federal Aviation Administration is providing $60 million of the funding in the form of grants.

"They've noted that the secondary runway at RST has reached the end of its useful life," O'Connor said about Runway 2/20. "We have done the maintenance and repairs on it."

If the bonding bill is not passed, the project can still start but might not be completed without state funds.

"This is a really massive project. So it will take multiple years and phases to complete," O'Connor said. "We're hopeful that bonding will come through for us at this time so we can continue moving forward past phase one."

With the RST project and others having support from both parties, the holdup appears to be with amendments and provisions being added to the bonding bill by both sides. Rep. Tina Liebling, (DFL) Rochester, was critical of these complications.

"If you say that this is germane, watch out. The next time you have a bonding project, your community is fair game for the rest of the state to tell your community what it can and can't do with any funds that it may have available to it," said Liebling. "That is not someplace you want to go."

Republican house members responded to Liebling's criticism.

"I agree with Representative Neu (R, North Branch) that you want to find this not germane so you don't have to take a vote to support the police," Rep. Jim Nash, (R) Waconia, responded.

Other projects hoping for bonding bill funding include improvements at Cascade Lake Park, an interchange on Highway 14 and County Road 104 just west of Rochester and a wastewater treatment project in Oronoco.

Other wastewater treatment projects in southeast Minnesota include $7 million each for Caledonia's new facility and improvements to Austin's existing plant. The Chatfield Center of the Arts would receive an additional $8 million.

Alex Tejada

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