Still almost a full month from the start of the 2020 legislative session, and already Minnesota is abuzz over bonding.
Yep, even-numbered year, bonding year, and Minnesotans can call on their elected state lawmakers to once again be responsible with public dollars while also responsibly investing in maintaining and improving our public spaces, amenities, and infrastructure. It’s that always-difficult balance between addressing true needs and embracing popular wants, with our state’s very vibe, attractiveness, livability, and fiscal future on the line. For politicians, their prospects for reelection depend a lot on also finding the fine line between delivering and wasting.
Last week, Gov. Tim Walz announced that he wants $276 million in bonding to build and renovate affordable housing across the state and to help the homeless. He specifically cited public housing, including projects to add sprinklers. With few sprinklers, five people died in a fire in a public-housing high-rise in Minneapolis in November. Walz also said the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs should receive funding for veterans’ homes, including security upgrades.
In another bonding proposal last week — with the governor expected to announce at least two more proposals this week, likely for higher-education buildings, public safety, and roads and bridges — Walz called for $300 million to ensure clean, safe water. He specifically pitched projects to improve water-treatment facilities and wastewater and storm-water infrastructure.
In line with making water a priority, Duluth Mayor Emily Larson said last week that the city would seek $13.5 million in bonding to shore up our shoreline. Specifically, state funding is needed, the mayor said, to continue seawall repairs and to repair and fortify our storm-battered Lakewalk and Brighton Beach. Third District Councilor Roz Randorf suggested the city seek state dollars, too, to address coastal erosion along Park Point.
Other early-on. initial bonding priorities for the city include housing, the Depot, Lake Superior Zoo, the port, Northern Lights Express, and the statewide TV and film industry.
There are a lot of legit needs, with the reality that not all will receive payouts. Not even close. Certainly not with the nation’s only politically split legislature. Which can be a blessing for us taxpayers. Political checks and balances tend to limit government spending to what’s truly needed.
DFL Rep. Mary Murphy of Hermantown, chairwoman of the House Capital Investment Committee, said Minnesota could bond for as much as $3.5 billion, given the state’s surplus and strong economy. And the governor is expected to propose about $2 billion of bonding projects. But some lawmakers are urging more restraint.
“Today’s borrowing impacts tomorrow’s spending,” Republican Sen. Dave Senjem of Rochester, chairman of the Senate Capital Investment Committee, said in a statement last week. “Surpluses come and go, but obligations remain the same; like a household budget, we don’t just borrow money because we can or because we can get a good deal.”
And there it is, again, that struggle to strike a balance between being responsible with the public’s dollars and making appropriate and necessary investments to serve Minnesotans’ needs and to properly maintain our shared public spaces and other amenities.
It’s the rub every bonding session, this even-numbered year included.