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Our view: Get real about bonding, GOP

More than two months in and with only two weeks to go, lawmakers in St. Paul haven't even reached a starting point from which a bonding bill can be negotiated. Minnesotans paying attention have to be doing so with mounting frustration, anxiety an...

More than two months in and with only two weeks to go, lawmakers in St. Paul haven’t even reached a starting point from which a bonding bill can be negotiated. Minnesotans paying attention have to be doing so with mounting frustration, anxiety and chagrin - and with dimming hopes for a deal.
House Republicans have yet to even offer a bonding proposal. That’s despite this being an even-numbered year, traditionally a bonding bill year for the Minnesota Legislature. No, there’s nothing that says there has to be a bonding bill in even-numbered years, but across the state it has become the expectation. More, it has come to be counted on by community after community eager to keep up with needed repairs to public amenities. For lawmakers, it’s an every-other-year chance to make an investment that truly benefits Minnesotans and sparks our economy with construction work.
House Leader Kurt Daudt and other Republicans have said theirs will be a $600 million proposal. Well, let’s see it then. Let’s see the list of projects they deem worthy of funding. Such a list would need to be considered on its own merits as well as in comparison with what DFLers have proposed so a responsible, reasonable compromise can be reached. Time is needed to produce something acceptable to both parties. But time is running out. A May 23 adjournment date is fast approaching.
Proposals from the DFL side have been spendy. Republicans have been right about that. DFL Gov. Mark Dayton pitched a $1.4 billion bonding bill. DFLers in the Senate upped the ante and proposed $1.5 billion in spending. The Senate proposal proved so spendy it couldn’t even attract enough Republican votes to reach the three-fifths majority required for its passage.
But at least DFLers made proposals. Sure, they shot high. They considered it the opening of a negotiation with Republicans who, so far, have refused to participate, to share in a goal of creating a bonding bill that’s both fiscally responsible and that meets government’s responsibility for maintaining infrastructure and public facilities.
If there’s to be a bonding bill this session, its spending total almost certainly will fall somewhere between the $600 million the Republicans are talking about and the $1.4 million or $1.5 million the DFLers proposed. That total no doubt would prove acceptable to most Minnesotans. Not every project being pitched is necessary, after all.
But others are. And still others would be fiscally irresponsible not to fund. In Duluth, for example, a state bonding investment of $12.7 million to continue cleaning up industrial pollution in the St. Louis River would mean another $25 million in matching federal funds for the same mission. How could Minnesota lawmakers from either party justify leaving $25 million on the table for environmental cleanup? Yet that’s precisely what will happen without a bonding bill. Likewise, the state is being asked for $4.3 million in bonding for runway repairs that are absolutely necessary in Duluth. The state funds would mean $43.4 million from the FAA for the same Duluth runway projects.
In both examples, the state is being asked to be a partner.
Overspending should be avoided. But responsible, necessary spending has to be embraced.
Getting to that balance via the 2016 bonding bill can’t happen without a Republican bonding proposal, however. So let’s see it, House Republican leaders. Time is running out.

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