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Local legislators differ on role, timing of Minnesota bonding bill

WILLMAR — Whether an $800 million bonding bill proposed by House DFL’ers is a jobs bill or a bloated package of projects that are not a good use of tax dollars will likely be the crux of debate in the Legislature in coming weeks.

Rep. Paul Anderson, R-Starbuck, said he was surprised with the overall size of the bill, which was revealed Tuesday.

He also questioned whether “big spending proposals” for projects like a sculpture garden, ski hill, civic centers and sports facilities were appropriate when the Legislature has not yet seen a budget proposal.

“Our position is to not have a bonding bill this year,” said Anderson.

But Rep. Mary Sawatzky, DFL-Willmar, said the projects are in response to the state’s infrastructure needs and would create an estimated 22,000 jobs. She said with the current low interest rates for borrowing money, it makes sense to take action to get people back to work building roads and facilities.

“Whether it’s short-term or long-term, it’s a job nonetheless,” she said. “We can jump start the economy.”

Anderson questions that motivation for a bonding bill.

“How many jobs are you going to buy?” he asked. “I wouldn’t vote for it just as a jobs bill.”

Bonding bills are typically passed in the second year of the biennium, but Sawatzky it’s not unusual for bonding packages to be approved both years. She acknowledged, however, that the amount of the House package is perhaps unusual at this time.

On Monday, Gov. Dayton proposed a $750 million bonding bill.

Sawatzky said the difference between the two proposals will mean compromise will be necessary within the party as well as across the aisle.

Even if all DFL House members vote for a bonding bill, votes would be needed from several GOP legislators.

Anderson said the only project for which there is broad GOP support is an investment to renovate the Capitol.

He said, however, there were a few projects he would have proposed — a state Highway 29 underpass between Glenwood and Alexandria for highway traffic to go under the railroad and a water treatment facility in Garfield — that did not make the bonding proposal list.

He said he could not say whether he would vote for the Capitol renovation project if the bonding bill also included other projects he said he supports, such as flood mitigation, roads, bridges, water and sewer repairs and replacements.

He said that issue would be “negotiable,” adding that the Capitol renovation would not necessarily have to begin this year but could wait until a bonding bill is taken up next year.

Meanwhile, Sawatzky said she was happy to see several local projects in the House bonding proposal, including $1.5 million to extend the Glacial Ridge recreational trail from New London to U.S. Highway 71; $1.6 million for a heating system at Ridgewater College; and $550,000 for a bus garage for the Kandiyohi Area Transit system.

Although funding for a decontamination and inspection station on Green Lake to slow the spread of aquatic invasive species was not in the House bonding plan — it is in Dayton’s — Sawatzky said the project may be included in a different House committee and be funded through another avenue.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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