Includes $150 Million To Help Rebuild Civil Unrest Damage In Twin CitiesBy Caroline Cummings

ST. PAUL, MINN. (WCCO) — Gov. Tim Walz on Monday unveiled a $500 million bonding package that would invest in projects across the state, a proposal he says is designed to create jobs and ensure the state’s infrastructure does not fall into disrepair.

“This proposed bill makes the necessary investments so that we don’t get so far behind,” Walz said at the Health Sciences Education Center at the University of Minnesota, a building that benefitted from a bonding plan passed in 2017. “Those smart investments pay dividends.”

His $518 million bill would largely borrow money, with $490 million in bonds and $28 million in cash from the general fund. The proposal comes months after the legislature approved a $1.9 billion financing bill in October, the largest in state history.

The plan has the support of the University of Minnesota, which would receive $119 million to repair and replace facilities at its campuses statewide.

“It supports renewal of roofs, electrical systems, windows, sidewalk, safety measures like fire alarms and sprinklers,” said University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel. “It’s not glamorous, but it funds the backbone of what we’re able to do and how we’re able to do it.”

The legislature typically discusses bonding proposals every other year, but Walz said bills should be brought forward when there’s a need, regardless of the sweeping bill approved in October.

“We should do it when it’s necessary. We should do it to a level that the state has the capacity to comfortably do fiscal responsibility, and we should do it when interest rates are historically low,” Walz said. “So I’m going to make the case to them that that now’s a good time.”

Among the projects detailed in his plan is $43 million for security upgrades at the Minnesota State Capitol grounds. Walz said that recommendation comes from the committee that oversees it, and that the funds would help finance longer term projects that predated the unrest last summer and the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, even though both events spotlighted the issue.

At meeting of that capitol security advisory committee last month, a state official shared it would take at least $21 million to complete some projects that began in 2012.

“Part of it is not to make a fortress out of the capitol but make it safe for visitors and those that are working there,” Walz said of the plans.

Walz is also pitching $150 million for redevelopment in Minneapolis and St. Paul after last summer’s civil unrest cost the cities hundreds of millions of dollars in damage. The issue is contentious in the legislature, which the governor noted, calling the arguments “depressing,” and the notion that Minneapolis should be left to pay for rebuilding on its own “nonsense.”

“The fact is we have a whole bunch of small business owners who were caught up in this, and from both an economic perspective and a societal and community perspective, we should make some investments,” Walz said. “So folks can rebuild.”

Other parts of the proposal include:

  • $100 million to expand access to affordable housing
  • $15 million cash to support projects that are “led by and serve” communities of color and Native Americans.
  • $79 million to maintain and repair existing state infrastructure, which includes $52.4 million for the Department of Natural Resources for investments in trails, buildings and recreational facilities.
  • The plan also calls for $4.5 million for a new State Veterans Cemetery in Redwood Falls and $10 million to expand the state’s passenger rail for a second daily Amtrak between the Twin Cities, Milwaukee and Chicago with stops in Winona and Red Wing. Without bonds for such projects, Walz said, the state could lose out on one-time matching funds from the federal government.

    But the hurdles to pass bonding bills are steeper to climb, since a three-fifths supermajority is required. A key lawmaker signaled that an additional bonding proposal following last year’s effort isn’t a priority.

    “This year the top priorities at the legislature are putting together the state budget and appropriately responding to the coronavirus pandemic,” said Sen. Tom Bakk, I-Cook, chair of the Senate Capital Investment Committee said in a statement. “At the appropriate time, I am hopeful the legislature and the governor will again come together to produce a bonding bill focused on the critical needs of Minnesotans.”

    Bakk’s House counterpart, Rep. Fue Lee, DFL-Minneapolis, said the Walz bill puts Minnesota “on the right track.” Still, Republicans would have to join Democrats in order for anything to pass.

    “There’s no reason Minnesota shouldn’t have a robust jobs and local projects bill this year,” Lee said in a statement. “Now is the time to invest in Minnesota.”

    Caroline Cummings