Minnesota Senate approves SWLRT audit, reinsurance extension

Minnesota lawmakers advanced two key bills on Monday.

The Minnesota Senate passed an extension to the state’s reinsurance program and approved an audit of the Southwest Light Rail (SWLRT) project.

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The House of Representatives passed the SWLRT audit bill earlier this month, but senators amended it to require the Metropolitan Council to notify the Legislature whenever the project is expected to be delayed by at least six months or costs are expected to rise by at least 5%. The House will now have to approve that amendment or send the bill to a conference committee to reach a compromise.

RELATED: Senator calls Southwest LRT project ‘Boondoggle,’ Walz pushes forward with more LRT funding

“Serious concerns were being raised by an independent third-party expert about the management and oversight of the construction project,” Sen. Scott Dibble said in introducing the bill on the Senate floor Monday.

The Republican chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, Sen. Scott Newman, (R) Hutchinson, says he expects the project to eventually exceed $3 billion, nearly triple the project’s original $1.2 billion budget from 10 years ago.

“What’s occurred here in my mind is just,  literally,  criminal as to how the taxpayers, be they federal or state or county taxpayers….how badly they are being treated,” he said before the audit bill passed 65 to 0. A similar bill passed the House 129 to one.

Gov. Tim Walz said last month he agrees the project should be audited.

A condominium association also blamed the project last month when its Minneapolis parking garage flooded.

Newman predicts if the SWLRT construction caused the damage, the government will end up having to buy the condo buildings. “The government is going to wind up owning all of those homes,” Newman says. “So in addition to the damage to the homes think in terms of relocation costs. Think in terms of attorney’s fees. And the damages are going to start mounting.”

RELATED: Minneapolis condo parking garage flooded, association blames SWLRT construction

Meanwhile, the Senate’s five-year reinsurance extension would continue the program that helps keep individual market insurance rates lower for Minnesotans.

The program, which began in 2017, partially reimburses insurers for high-cost claims to keep premiums stable.

The reinsurance extension is still working its way through House committees.