By Sean Miner
As part of his annual visit to each City Council in his jurisdiction, State Sen. David Osmek (R) outlined what the state legislature was aiming to accomplish in the final two weeks of session at the May 9 Orono City Council meeting.
By his account, one big-ticket item the governing body still hopes to get sorted out is a bonding bill. A version authored by Democrats in the state senate sought to commit $1.5 billion for transportation and other public works items.
Included in the bill was over $15 million in funding for several Highway 12 safety improvements. Most notable among them were a median barrier between lanes in Orono, Long Lake and Wayzata, and intersection reconfigurations where 12 meets County Roads 90 and 92.
“A couple of things to note,” began Osmek. “We are in the final two weeks of session, one of the shortest sessions that we’ve had. On Thursday [May 5], the bonding bill failed by one vote in the Minnesota State Senate.”
The bonding bill fell just one vote short of the 41-25 supermajority required to pass. The bill required the support of two Republican lawmakers, but only got one.
Osmek, who voted against the Democrat’s bonding bill, explained that the price tag for the entire package was the problem.
“We had a Republican alternative that was $987 million,” said Osmek. “I still thought that was too high.”
Despite the failed vote, and the end of the session looming, Osmek struck a positive tone.
“We are optimistic we are going to have a bonding bill,” Osmek said.
Also on the major items list for the state legislature is a transportation bill, which is also running into significant partisan roadblocks. Those obstacles, however, could still be overcome by the end of session on May 23, said Osmek.
“We’re hopeful that we will see some transportation bills at some point,” said Osmek. “The problem is that the governor and the Democrats in the senate insist on tax increases.
“It looks like the current ‘soup du jour’ is not a gas tax, but there may be an increase in the metropolitan sales tax,” continued Osmek. “However, they’re going to focus that on buses, which I approve of.”
He also mentioned the sizable surplus that the state has at its disposal for the biennium, but noted that it was both a blessing and a curse.
“We did end with a $900 million surplus,” Osmek said. “That’s a good thing — except that just brings all the lobbyists to St. Paul.”
A few city councilors spoke to Osmek, primarily thanking him for his service.
“I’d just like to thank you for your responsiveness, for all the talk on Highway 12,” said Councilman Aaron Printup.
“I appreciate that you have a good relationship with the city, and good relationships with the constituents,” added Councilman Dennis Walsh.
Mayor Lili McMillan had a few pointed questions for Osmek on the legislative process with regard to the bonding bill, given its importance to safety improvements on Highway 12.
“Does it normally come in that late?” asked McMillan. “Looking at all the faces at the last Highway 12 Safety Coalition meeting, there are a lot of people concerned about this.”
“It does work that way,” replied Osmek. “It is frustrating. I think we could have a bonding bill by the end of the week…[but] it is part of the operations of the state. You sort of get used to it, but you do the best you can.”
“We’re getting a few things done,” added Osmek. “But being in the minority, you tend to not get too many things done.”
The next Orono City Council meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Monday, May 23 at Orono City Hall.