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Walz unveils $1.27 billion public construction proposal

By STEVE KARNOWSKIFebruary 26, 2019
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Minnesota Gob. Tim Walz, left, tours the Upper Post Veterans Community at Fort Snelling, Minn. Walz has unveiled his first capital spending proposal, a $1.27 billion public construction borrowing bill. (Glen Stubbe/Star Tribune via AP)
1 of 2
Minnesota Gob. Tim Walz, left, tours the Upper Post Veterans Community at Fort Snelling, Minn. Walz has unveiled his first capital spending proposal, a $1.27 billion public construction borrowing bill. (Glen Stubbe/Star Tribune via AP)

FORT SNELLING, Minn. (AP) — Democratic Gov. Tim Walz unveiled his first capital spending proposal Tuesday, a $1.27 billion public construction borrowing bill that he said would benefit the entire state, and he challenged Republicans to support it.

Walz announced the details at a veterans housing community that’s part of the historic Upper Post at Fort Snelling. He spoke in a building that once housed stables but was recently converted with a combination of public and private money into 58 apartments for veterans, many of whom were once homeless.

As the governor promised when he released his first budget last week, his ”bonding bill ” includes $345 million for transportation and mass transit, $300 million for higher education split between the Minnesota State and University of Minnesota systems, $150 million for housing and $38.8 million for the prison system. Twenty-two percent of the projects are in greater Minnesota, 27 percent are in the Twin Cities area and 51 percent would have benefits statewide, he said.

“This is not a wish list to me,” he said. “This is what’s needed. ... Not doing these things is going to have consequences.”

The governor’s transportation proposals include $200 million for local road and bridge improvement programs, plus $64 million for rail safety improvements, including $52 million for a grade crossing separation project in Moorhead. His $150 million for housing would preserve existing affordable housing and create new housing for Minnesotans of all income levels statewide. The governor also proposed $20 million for the prison system, including security upgrades. About half of the total package is designated for preserving existing assets.

Republican leaders have shown little enthusiasm for such a big borrowing package this year, when the main job of the legislative session is passing a budget. Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said Monday it might be a good proposal for 2020. The Legislature traditionally devotes its sessions in even-numbered years to borrowing packages, but Budget Commissioner Myron Frans pointed out that the Legislature has passed them in all but two of the last 30 years.

Walz said he will travel the state to sell his proposal and make the case for funding the projects now while interest rates on state-issued bonds are low and the needs are pressing. Failure to act would mean losing hundreds of millions of dollars of private investment the state could have leveraged otherwise, he said.

″‘No’ is not a plan for the future,” Walz said.

Walz will need Republican votes no matter how big of a package ultimately emerges this year and-or next, given that the state constitution requires a three-fifths majority to approve borrowing. Senate Republicans have a three-vote majority. Even in the Democratic-controlled House, the bill would need at least six GOP votes.

“We’re not saying ‘no,’ to a bonding bill, we’re saying ‘not yet,’” Sen. David Senjem, chairman of the Senate Capital Investment Committee, said in a statement. “Over the next two years, we’ll work with Gov. Walz on a right-sized bonding bill, with the right priorities, at the right time.”

Rep. Dan Urdahl, the lead Republican on the House Capital Investment Committee, said in a statement that he looks forward to working with House Democrats and the governor to see if they can agree on a plan that can get the necessary super-majority. He didn’t specify if it would be this year.

Democratic House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler said it’s likely to come down to a broad deal late this session, which must end by May 20.

“Bonding and taxes tend to be the lynchpin at the close of session. ... I would imagine that’ll be part of our negotiations right down to the end,” he said.

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