Bonding bill faces hurdles

Kevin Beckman

Though Gov. Mark Dayton introduced a historic bonding bill last Friday, state lawmakers must settle on a figure before it can be signed into law.
The proposed $1.4 billion bonding bill — which is meant to be used on infrastructure projects in the state — is the largest in state history. Dayton’s office has estimated that it could create more than 39,000 jobs throughout Minnesota. 
The proposal balances the needs of the state, with 35 percent funding projects in greater Minnesota, 35 percent in the Twin Cities area and 30 percent having statewide impacts, according to Dayton’s office.
“These projects are essential to improving our state’s infrastructure,” Dayton said in a press release.
The state received about $3.5 billion in bonding requests for 2016. 
But before the bonding bill becomes law, legislators get the chance to debate the recommendations and counter with their own.
Dayton’s proposal focuses primarily on higher education, including more than $285 million for repairs and new facility construction at the University of Minnesota, Minnesota
State Colleges and university campuses across the state. The bill also includes upgrades to hospitals and state correctional facilities, as well as more than $120 million for freight rail and pipeline safety projects. 
But some Republicans expressed concerns about the bill’s $1.4 billion price tag and the absence of any funding requests for light rail transit or highway and bridge repairs in Greater Minnesota. 
“We are extremely disappointed that Gov. Dayton failed to set aside even $1 for road and bridge infrastructure in Greater Minnesota or the suburbs,” House Majority Leader Joyce Peppin, R-Rogers, said in a press release. 
Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, the lead DFL member on the House Capital Investment Committee, said Dayton’s bonding package demonstrated an appropriate amount of state investment. 
“I am a strong supporter of more aggressive bonding bills,” she said. 
Hausman said she expects House Republicans to insist on keeping the bonding bill less than about $850 million. 
Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said the governor’s proposal should be cut in half before specific projects can be prioritized. 
“Bonding is just another word for borrowing money,” Hann said, adding that Minnesota’s debt is already a rapidly growing part of the state budget. “Just like any business or any family, you don’t just go out and run up as big a debt as you possibly can.”
The University of Minnesota requested $236.3 million from Gov. Dayton for six priority projects but was recommended to receive about $153.3 million under Dayton’s plan. 
Dayton’s recommendation also includes $55 million for the University’s Higher Education Asset Preservation and Renovation.
This year’s legislative session is set to begin on March 8.