ST. PAUL -- The House rejected an $839 million bonding bill Thursday night as lawmakers divided over whether to pay for a commuter rail line between St. Cloud and the Twin Cities.
The bill, which needed 81 votes to pass, didn't even get a simple majority. Only 59 representatives supported the measure, while 68 voted against it.
The House can try again to pass the bill in the days ahead.
House Speaker Steve Sviggum of Kenyon said he's unsure if or how the House can get the votes. "There's no clear roadmap to get that majority of 81," he said.
But his second-in-command, Majority Leader Tim Pawlenty, R-Eagan, described the night's vote as "a minor detour."
Democrats were more skeptical. "I don't think the Republican Party in the Minnesota House is capable of passing a bonding bill," said Rep. Matt Entenza, DFL-St. Paul, citing the GOP's deep split on the train issue.
Unlike the programs in the current general budget, the bonding bill is reserved for long-term projects the state pays for by borrowing money on the bond market.
Most of the money in the House bill is dedicated to new buildings and renovations for colleges, along with repairs to bridges and roads.
"We needed to focus on priorities rather than saying yes to everybody, like the Senate seemed to say," Rep. Jim Knoblach, R-St. Cloud, chairman of the House Capital Investment Committee.
The House's bill is about the same size as Gov. Jesse Ventura's original bonding plan, though he now says the state can't afford more than $500 million in new capital spending. But the House measure was smaller than a $1.2 billion plan in the Senate.
The sponsors said it focuses on core infrastructure needs of the state. It splits the difference between the Senate and Ventura plans in terms of money for the University of Minnesota and schools in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system.
The House, for example, recommends $131 million for the University of Minnesota, compared to $219 million in the Senate plan and $85 million in Ventura's.
Plus, the House plan includes more money for roads and bridge projects than either competing plan, with $148 million overall.
Also in the bill is $50 million to build a new laboratory that would be shared by the departments of health and agriculture. That's less than either Ventura or the Senate proposed.
The House plan doesn't include any money for a new Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis.
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