DFL Gov. Mark Dayton kicked off the 2016 bonding debate this week with an ambitious $1.4 billion package of borrowing projects, focusing heavily on clean water, higher education and public safety projects.
Dayton stretched his bonding announcement into a two-day affair, proposing Thursday to spend $167 million to help mostly small, far-flung communities update their clean water infrastructure. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates there’s an $11 billion need in Minnesota over 20 years to update aging wastewater treatment facilities and drinking water systems. Dayton, who is holding a clean water summit in February, said the issue will be one of his top priorities for his final three years in office.
“Minnesota has long been known for the abundance and quality of its water,” Dayton said Thursday. “It’s no longer something we can take for granted.”
Dayton unveiled the rest of his bonding proposal Friday — his largest bill yet — investing heavily in infrastructure repairs on college campuses across the state, affordable housing and public safety improvements, including funds to construct less-restrictive housing options for offenders locked in the state’s controversial sex offender program (a full list of the projects here, and a county-by-county breakdown here).
- $135 million for repairs to buildings on University of Minnesota and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities campuses across the state
- $125 million for public safety, including $70.3 million to complete the renovation of the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter
- $85 million for oil rail safety improvements, including $69.6 million for highway rail grade separations in Moorhead, Prairie Island and Coon Rapids
- $90 million for affordable housing projects
- $42.9 million to rebuild the Kellogg Boulevard Bridge, which connects downtown St. Paul with the city’s eastern neighborhoods and suburbs
- $31.9 million to fully restore the 10th Avenue Bridge, which connects downtown Minneapolis to the University of Minnesota campus
Governors typically set the tone of the bonding debate, but legislators will have a big say in what gets included. Bonding bills require a three-fifths majority to pass in both chambers, meaning Democrats in control of the Senate must court Republican minority votes, and House majority Republicans will have to include projects for Democrats in the minority.
Dayton is already facing an uphill climb with his $1.4 billion package of projects. Lawmakers typically bond for $1 billion each biennium, and many Republicans are reluctant to borrow over that amount.
“Gov. Dayton’s historically large borrowing proposal should be cut in half before we even begin talking about statewide priorities and specific projects,” Senate Republican Minority Leader David Hann said Friday.
Democrats, on the other hand, welcomed Dayton’s proposal and praised his focus on things like water quality and higher education. “Governor Dayton’s robust bonding package demonstrates strategic investments that will keep up the momentum as the state’s economy continues to gain steam,” Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, said. “His proposal preserves state assets, repairs critical infrastructure, and wisely invests in higher education, public safety, and affordable housing.
Since session ended, legislators on the two capital investment committees have been traveling across the state to review projects.
Traditionally, legislators craft bonding bills on the even-numbered years, but lawmakers have passed a package of projects nearly every year since the 1980s. During a June special session last year, legislators agreed to a $180 million bonding bill.