ST. PAUL - It's unprecedented, but look for the Minnesota Legislature to produce two bonding bills this year, one for all the shiny new buildings and projects that lawmakers can boast about at reelection time and another for what's really important: the routine maintenance no one finds exciting but has to be paid for, too, to responsibly care for our public amenities.
"Let's fix the stuff we already have and don't make it compete with the new stuff," Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk said in pitching double bonding at a legislative breakfast Wednesday.
The breakfast at the Intercontinental St. Paul Riverfront hotel wrapped up a two-day Northland lobbying blitz here that's known as Duluth and St. Louis County at the Capitol.
"Public infrastructure is deteriorating, and certainly those of you in Duluth know what's happened to your streets. It's like that all over the state. It's all over the state at our universities, all over the state in our roads and bridges, all over the state in our wastewater infrastructure, all over the state with the DNR on thousands and thousands and thousands of miles of trails. And it's one of the hardest things to get people to bond for, routine maintenance," Sen. Bakk, DFL-Cook, further said. "New shiny things, like last year the new chemistry building up at UMD, we all want to build new shiny stuff. And so when we decide what to bond for, the shiny stuff tends to rise to the top and we take it away from the stuff that's not quite as sexy. ...
"I'm hoping we can kind of take the politics out of fixing stuff because we need to take care of the stuff that we already have. So if you hear about two bonding bills going forward, there's no precedent for that, but I do think it's the right thing to do. Let's take the pressure off for maintenance and agree that we want to fix up our infrastructure, our roads, bridges, and all the other stuff in our towns and cities and not make them compete with new stuff."
Boring but necessary maintenance projects are "how we create community," Rep. Liz Olson, DFL-Duluth, said during her time at the mic Wednesday morning at dawn. "That's how we create communities that work. That's how we have streets we can drive on (and) we have jobs to make those streets a reality. It's really what makes a vibrant, healthy community."
Northeastern Minnesota has a lot riding on the bonding decisions this year in St. Paul, regardless of whether they result in one bill or two. Our bonding requests include millions for seawall repairs on the Duluth waterfront; repairs to the 125-year-old Depot in downtown Duluth; fixes at Glensheen; maintenance at the University of Minnesota Duluth, Lake Superior College, and at other institutions of higher education around the state; and upgrades to the Northeast Regional Corrections Center workhouse.
In addition, Duluth is seeking legislative approval to create a half-percent sales tax to fund street repairs.
Minnesota has about $500 million in surplus in the bank right now, Speaker of the House Kurt Daudt told the breakfast attendees. But the most recent state revenue forecast said that's expected to drop to about $329 million over the next 16 months, impacting bonding and other decisions this session.
But Daudt, R-Crown, also said he has no doubt Northeastern Minnesota will fare well again this bonding year.
"The Range delegation has done an excellent job getting money to flow north over the years. In reality we know how important Duluth and the Iron Range are not only to that region but to the entire state of Minnesota, to our entire state economy," Daudt said. "The good news is they are predicting continued economic growth, continued job growth, continued wage growth. ... (Those) are all great signs for our economy. We think that the tax bill from D.C. will be good for our state, too, good for our economy. We're seeing that in our tax plan."
Good enough to support two bonding bills? If not, our routine maintenance can't be forgotten, no matter how not sexy they are or how easy they are to shove aside.