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Minnesota Opinion: Bonding bill can't detract from more-pressing priorities

A bonding bill can be a priority this legislative session in St. Paul. Well-timed capital investment is easy to support and can be approved. But it can't be the No. 1 priority.

Minnesota Opinion editorial
Minnesota Opinion editorial
West Central Tribune graphic

There are good reasons to support a bonding bill in St. Paul this winter, even if this is an odd-numbered year when such public-investment plans typically aren’t considered by the Legislature.

The state’s bond rating remains a strong AAA, and interest rates are still attractively low, both making this a responsibly prime time for public investment. In addition, and perhaps most importantly, Minnesota’s COVID-decimated economy is desperate for the cash infusion and jobs jolt bonding bills provide while also helping to pay for the upkeep of and improvements to public buildings, parks, and other public spaces and infrastructure: amenities for all of us, which we depend on, use, and enjoy.

“You fix your roof before it collapses. You repair a leaky pipe before it leads to water damage,” Gov. Tim Walz said Monday in a statement announcing a $518 million bonding proposal for consideration this legislative session. “That’s exactly what this plan prioritizes — taking care of what we have.”

Minnesotans and their elected House reps and senators can easily get behind a bonding bill this year. That is, as long as it doesn’t detract from more-pressing matters, in particular the need to continue vaccinating Minnesotans, as quickly as possible, so we can finally put the deaths, anxiety, money woes, sickness, and suffering of the coronavirus behind us. It also can’t sidetrack the Legislature’s legal obligation to pass a new two-year state budget, a task made more challenging by the pandemic and its shutdowns and restrictions, which turned a healthy $1.5 billion state budget surplus into a projected $1.3 billion budget-choking deficit.

Walz’s proposal didn’t list specific projects, so it’s unclear what might be included . It seems a safe bet, however, that the nearly $57 million for University of Minnesota campuses statewide (would be needed). Or that the proposed $100 million to preserve and build housing around the state would help pay for projects here, where housing has long been identified as a pressing need at all income levels.

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Walz also included $43 million for security upgrades at the state Capitol and nearby government buildings, $150 million to help rebuild in Minneapolis and St. Paul after last summer’s riots, and $14.5 million so Minnesota doesn’t lose highly competitive federal matching funds to other states.

A bonding bill this year would come on the heels of a $1.9 billion capital investment in 2020. It could be the one-two punch our state’s bottom line desperately needs. The bonding bill last year was the state’s largest-ever but took months longer than usual to be hammered together and approved by the nation’s lone politically divided legislature.

This year, Walz, a DFLer, already has at least lukewarm support from Minnesota Republicans. House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt , R-Crown, didn’t immediately say no.

“It depends on the projects,” Daudt said, according to Minnesota Public Radio. “If there are projects that are necessary, that should be worked on; we’re certainly open to it.”

Sen. Tom Bakk, I-Cook, chairs the Senate’s capital investment committee. “At the appropriate time,” he said in a Forum News Service story, “I am hopeful the Legislature and the governor will again come together to produce a bonding bill focused on the critical needs of Minnesotans.”

That can be supported. That can happen. A well-timed and aggressive capital investment could go a long way toward boosting our pandemic-plagued economy while also responsibly addressing maintenance and public-investment needs.

It can be a priority — just not the No. 1 priority in St. Paul this session.

This Minnesota Opinion editorial is the opinion of the Duluth News Tribune Editorial Board.

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