Duluth came up empty last year when it asked the Minnesota State Legislature for authority to collect an additional half-percent local sales tax, with the proceeds earmarked to fund street improvements.
But this time around, Duluth Mayor Emily Larson said the odds of the city's request being granted look considerably brighter.
Both the House and Senate Tax Bills now contain provisions that would allow for the local tax, which is expected to generate about $7 million annually to help fix Duluth's streets.
"We are very well-positioned," said Larson, who has made more than a dozen trips to St. Paul so far this legislative session to persuade lawmakers to support Duluth's request for more taxing authority.
She points to strong local support for the idea, as demonstrated by a November 2017 referendum in which more than 75 percent of Duluth voters indicated they were in favor of a self-imposed sales tax hike, so long as the proceeds would be dedicated exclusively to fixing the city's crumbling streets.
Last year, Duluth's sales tax request was not included in both versions of the tax bill. But even if it had made it through conference committee, that tax bill was ultimately vetoed by then-Gov. Mark Dayton, who objected to several of the final bill's other provisions.
Larson expressed confidence that so long as a tax bill is indeed passed this year, Duluth's requested sales tax will be a part of it.
She noted a different feel in the Legislature this time around.
"This represents a different kind of political landscape, with a lot of focus on getting things done across Minnesota," Larson said. "It's a different experience than last year."
DFL Gov. Tim Walz and House Majority Leader Melissa Hortman have been unable to reach broad agreement yet with their Republican counterpart, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, on a budget framework, but Larson expects that once they do, the legislative pace will pick up dramatically.
"There will be a little bit of a lull until the budget targets get set, but then once that happens, the conference committees will have a better sense of the numbers they have to work with and what they have to get to," she said.
The legislative session is scheduled to end May 20.
"We have two weeks left, and a lot happens quickly now," Larson said. With the session drawing toward a close, the mayor said she's keeping a flexible schedule in Duluth, so she can respond to any needs that arise in St. Paul.
Larson has been advocating for a number of other local projects - none bigger than a state investment in infrastructure to support the growth of Duluth's downtown medical district. St. Luke's and Essentia Health both plan major improvements to their medical campuses in the next several years, to the combined tune of about $2 billion.
The House has a bill that would provide $154 million in support for the project, but the Senate has yet to take up the request.
"We're trying to be nimble," Larson said. "We have a primary ask that would include funding for affordable housing, the continuation of our district energy system into the Hillside. So, it's really exciting."
But Larson said she's ready to consider options if the whole medical district request is deemed too big.
"We are prepared to step that request down, in terms of numbers if we need to, depending on how the budget targets come in and what Senate leaders have an appetite for," she said.
Funding for Duluth's medical district could be appropriated through a number of means, including the tax, jobs and bonding bills.
"We have worked hard to make sure that both of our priority projects have at least two paths forward, because what we've seen and experienced is that sometimes a certain provision or a certain bill just doesn't make it through," Larson said.
"Sometimes that's about politics. Sometimes that's about final deliberations. So, it's important to think through possible routes to achieve your goal," she said.