The $1.87 billion bonding bill passed by the Minnesota Legislature last month included money for all the usual sorts of public spaces-improving and infrastructure-maintaining projects.
But there was more in the measure that that may have gone unnoticed and that may actually prove even more impactful.
We’re talking beyond the bill’s much-reported $13.5 million to the city of Duluth to rebuild seawalls and to shore up our waterfront. Beyond the $4.4 million for renovations to a classroom and liberal-arts building at the University of Minnesota Duluth. Beyond the $1.5 million to make roof and exterior repairs at the historic and iconic Depot in downtown Duluth, now known as the St. Louis County Heritage and Arts Center. And even beyond the $6.75 million to convert biogas into electricity at the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District.
Yes, the bonding bill helps make good on government’s responsibility to maintain and invest in spaces we all share and we all depend on for our quality of life here in Minnesota. And it comes at a moment when public investment can go a long way toward boosting our flailing, pandemic-pulverized economy.
But as disappointing to Minnesotans that this bonding bill took so long to be passed — after failing during the regular session and previous special sessions — there are provisions in it beyond project funding we can all see as encouraging.
For one thing, there’s long-sought tax conformity.
“Farmers and local small business owners are finally getting a major tax break with full conformity to Section 179 of the federal tax code,” state Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Vernon Center, wrote in an op-ed for the Mankato Free Press. “It sounds boring, but it’s hard to overstate how important this tax cut is for Minnesota’s agricultural economy. … Make no mistake, this was probably our last chance to get this important tax cut in for the foreseeable future. It is unprecedented for sure to have a tax provision attached to a bonding bill, but nevertheless, it is a monumental victory to have the House agree to this provision.”
For another thing, the bonding bill included authorization for the Duluth school district to levy up to $31.5 million, keeping alive the option of building new administrative offices and a bus barn and other transportation facilities on the back of the district’s unsellable Central High School property on top of the hill. A new home for those offices and facilities may be necessary with a sale to a developer pending of Historic Old Central on Second Street. The district’s reuse of the undesirable-to-buyers back of the hilltop Central property would additionally make its front edge, that part of the site with the priceless views, more marketable. The district has been languishing for far too many years to sell the shuttered hilltop Central property, its ongoing maintenance and security costs an unnecessary burden on taxpayers.
The bonding bill’s authorization actually promises to “save money for the taxpayers," school district Facilities Director David Spooner said in an interview in February with the News Tribune Editorial Board. “That something different is spending $17 million less by redeveloping the back portion of the Central site and no longer having to make $48.5 million of (identified needed) repairs downtown. If it all works out.”
With the passage — finally — of a bonding bill, that and more, going beyond bonding bills’ usual funding of infrastructure and public-spaces projects, is looking to work out very well.