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At Issue: ‘Bread and butter’ emergency borrowing

Published (4/10/2009)
By Sonja Hegman
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Rep. Alice Hausman (DFL-St. Paul) explains the omnibus capital investment bill, which she sponsors, on the House floor April 6. (Photo by Tom Olmscheid)With the goal of being carbon neutral by 2010, the University of Minnesota Morris could be the recipient of funding that would build a one-of-a-kind facility.

The $3 million allocated in the House omnibus capital investment bill would be used to design, construct, furnish and equip a national solar testing and certification laboratory to test, rate and certify the performance of equipment and devices that utilize solar energy for heating and cooling air and water for electricity.

Rep. Alice Hausman (DFL-St. Paul), who sponsors HF855, said the motivation for including this project was a letter from a man who had waited several months for testing on his solar panel. A Florida lab tests solar thermal water heating panels, but does not test air panels, so Hausman said the man sent his panel to a one-of-a-kind Canadian lab that tests for both water and air. After 18 months, he found out the panel wasn’t likely to be tested because the facility was closed for an indefinite period of time.

“Minnesota has an opportunity to attract a tremendous amount of development in the renewable energy sector through the creation of a testing facility such as this,” Hausman said. “With the capacity to test both solar thermal and solar electric panels, Minnesota can easily position itself as a continuing leader in the renewable sector. There are dozens of companies in the U.S. waiting for a facility just like this.”

Currently, the lab could be built at the Morris campus, but the Twin Cities campus has existing infrastructure that could be used.

After almost two hours of debate April 6, the House passed its $200 million bonding bill 93-40. The Senate passed its $329 million bill, SF781, sponsored by Sen. Keith Langseth (DFL-Glyndon), 56-8 on March 16. A conference committee has been called for to work out the differences.

“We need to prioritize needs over wants,” said House Minority Leader Marty Seifert (R-Marshall). “We’re doing nothing to take care of the state’s deficit. When you’re in a hole, stop digging. We’re drowning in red ink as a country and as a state.”

The House bill would provide $55 million for Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, nearly $30 million for the Department of Transportation and $23 million for the University of Minnesota. It also includes nearly $13 million for flood mitigation grants, but some legislators wanted more.

Rep. Morrie Lanning (R-Moorhead) and Rep. Paul Marquart (DFL-Dilworth) supported an unsuccessful attempt by Rep. Greg Davids (R-Preston) to shift bonding money from colleges to flood mitigation — their main concern was that of the current flooding in the Red River Valley. Davids’ southeast Minnesota district had severe flooding in August 2007.

“In my tenure I have always voted for bonding bills,” Lanning said. “It pains me to vote against this bill because of a major flaw in flood mitigation. (Constituents) want us to address higher ed, but they also want us to address the flooding issue in this state.”

Lanning has said he and other members who represent the Red River Valley would be bringing forth a flood recovery bill in the near future if it wasn’t dealt with adequately in the bonding bill.

“I don’t begin to think we have the money to fund the floods going right now,” Hausman said, adding that she has every intention of addressing those concerns once a damage total is more accurate. She said the main purpose of the bill is to preserve public infrastructure and put people to work.

“I will tell you that this is one of those bare bones, bread-and-butter bonding bills that takes care of the basics,” Hausman said. “It focuses on both paintbrush and shovel-ready projects that can be undertaken immediately.”

Rep. Sarah Anderson (R-Plymouth) successfully amended the bill to include greater accountability as to how many jobs will be created or retained, salaries and economic development.

“This bill will provide money for jobs,” said House Majority Leader Tony Sertich (DFL-Chisholm). “Some of us would like to see a bigger bill. This money does borrow, but what it buys is jobs and asset preservation.”

The bill also includes:

• $24 million for the Department of Human Services, including $20 million to expand the Moose Lake Sex Offender Treatment Facility;

• $7.1 million for the Veteran’s Affairs Department;

• $5 million to the Department of Corrections for asset preservation;

• $4 million for the Housing Finance Agency for public housing;

• $3.6 million for the Department of Military Affairs for asset preservation; and

• $2.06 million for Minnesota Historical Society asset preservation.

Members of the House who will hammer out the final details of the bill with the Senate are Hausman, Rep. Larry Howes (R-Walker), Rep. Tom Rukavina (DFL-Virginia), Rep. Bev Scalze (DFL-Little Canada) and Rep. Jean Wagenius (DFL-Mpls). Langseth will be joined at the conference committee by Sen. Dick Day (R-Owatonna), Sen. Ann Lynch (DFL-Rochester), Sen. Katie Sieben (DFL-Newport) and Sen. David Tomassoni (DFL-Chisholm).

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