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Months after MN Legislature passed $1.9B borrowing bill, is there a will for more?

3January 2021

Just three months after the Legislature authorized borrowing a record-setting $1.9 billion for public construction projects, the incoming chairman of the Senate Capital Investment Committee, Tom Bakk of Cook, wants lawmakers to pass another bonding bill this year.

Bakk, the former longtime Democratic leader turned independent, said he plans to propose a much smaller bill to “do the stuff everybody thinks should be done” but wasn’t funded in last year’s public works package. Those structures include local sewer and water projects and deteriorating state structures — “things that tend to get kicked to the curb,” he said, as lawmakers divert funds to buildings and roads in their home districts.

To that end, Bakk said he would be “putting a bill together with no local projects.”

There’s a demand for more infrastructure money. While last year’s bonding bill was big, it only funded about one-third of the $5.3 billion that state agencies and local governments requested for public works projects. In 2017, the state Department of Administration estimated it would cost $8.2 billion over 10 years to maintain, restore and replace the 7,500 buildings and 26,000 other structures the state owns, plus billions more for state college and university buildings and local sewer and water projects.

Bakk’s plan has some key early support. House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, said Democrats in that chamber will try to pass a bonding bill, and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said he’s “willing to discuss” a small bonding package.

While even-numbered years are often called “bonding years” at the Capitol, in reality almost every year is a bonding year. The Legislature hasn’t passed a bonding bill in just three of the last 37 years. In the past decade, bonding bills passed in even-numbered years averaged $775 million, while those approved in odd-numbered years typically cost $220 million.

With the state facing a projected $1.3 billion budget shortfall in the next two years, Bakk said the biggest challenge facing a bonding bill is “how you pay for it.”

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