Pawlenty’s bonding plan needs to go further

Last week, Gov. Tim Pawlenty recommended his bonding proposal to the Legislature and managed not to ruffle too many feathers.

The plan contains several good investments, including monies for the Northstar line, the Minnesota Zoo and environmental projects. But the governor’s plan falls short in investments for affordable housing and education.

The $760 million plan proposes $196 million for education; $194 million for economic development, housing and transportation; $172 million for environmental and natural resources; $108 million for corrections; and $89 million for government and public services.

University officials are understandably disappointed they will probably receive only $77 million, about half the amount they wanted. The University is typically allocated about 18 percent of bonding funds but receives only 11 percent from Pawlenty’s plan. The money will cover 40 percent of proposed building renovations. State spending on higher education is a sound investment for the Twin Cities and should have fared better, even in a tight economy.

As the battle in the Legislature heats up this month, House and Senate Republicans will certainly sink their teeth into spending on the Northstar line. The proposed rail line that would run from Big Lake, Minn., to downtown Minneapolis is a long overdue investment. Commuter rail between the northwestern suburbs and Minneapolis will encourage and support both areas’ independent vitalities and identities by discouraging growth within the corridor itself.

Unfortunately, Pawlenty’s plan does little for the underpaid and underrepresented low-income city residents. Twenty million dollars for affordable housing barely begins to address the Twin Cities’ crisis. Many low-income families were pushed out by higher wage earners during the economic boom of the 1990s. Now Minnesota faces a rising deficit and the perfect excuse to table more investments in low-income housing.

While the governor managed yet again to defy strictly partisan spending criteria, the bonding bill still has a long way to go before it is truly balanced.