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Our View: Tough road for bonding bill

With the list of proposed Northland projects hoping to win state bonding money this year perhaps not as, let's say, "gotta get 'em done" as in years past, perhaps it's OK that passing a bonding bill will be far from a given this legislative session in St. Paul.

Gov. Mark Dayton released his bonding proposal this week, a wish list $1.5 billion big with financing for repairs to public buildings, investments in public works projects, and the responsible maintenance of public amenities like infrastructure, parks, state buildings, and other public spaces statewide.

(In an additional document released at the same time, Gov. Dayton supported state funding for seawall repairs in Duluth and the continued conversion of the Duluth Steam Plant to a more efficient hot water heating system, Duluth Mayor Emily Larson reported.)

The trouble with the governor's opening bonding proposal pitch, according to the Republicans in charge of the Minnesota Legislature, is that it is more than half a billion dollars bigger than what Republicans said they'd consider, and it isn't focused on infrastructure and state transportation needs, as Republicans also said they wanted.

Thus the hard and long road ahead to passage.

"It will be an uphill battle to secure legislative support," Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Acton Township, the House Capital Investment Committee chairman, said in a statement Tuesday to the media, including to the News Tribune Opinion page. "(The governor's) proposal (calls for spending) $600 million more than we have planned for in the budget forecast. Last session, the Legislature passed a $1 billion, geographically balanced bonding bill which focused heavily on infrastructure and transportation needs. Any bill that takes shape this year will need to follow that same blueprint."

Vulnerable then is perhaps the flashiest Duluth project on the governor's list: about $4 million to fix "deteriorating structures and building systems" at Glensheen, with the historic estate's owner, the University of Minnesota, raising $4 million in non-university matching funds. Glensheen fell short with a similar request last session.

Other Northland items on the governor's list included funding for ongoing maintenance work at Lake Superior College, the University of Minnesota Duluth, Mesabi Range College in Virginia, and buildings in Cloquet; shelter repairs at Gooseberry Falls State Park on the North Shore; improvements to the Minnesota Veterans Home in Silver Bay; accessibility improvements at Jay Cooke State Park; the expansion from a two-year program to a four-year degree program in elementary education at Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College in Cloquet; trail rehabilitation in Hibbing; and new water line infrastructure in Biwabik.

The governor's DFL colleagues, of course, were quick to praise the governor's proposal, including for how it promises to reduce a backlog of deferred maintenance and for its estimated creation of almost 23,000 jobs. Duluth's Rep. Jennifer Schultz, for example, heralded the governor's proposal as "bold."

As nice as the accolades were for the governor, winning approval from the other side of the aisle, the side currently in power in St. Paul, will be the far-tougher achievement — especially with differences in priorities already clear, with this an election year, and with how divisive and partisan Minnesota politics has become anyway.

The session opens Feb. 20.

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