Capitol watchers ‘befuddled’ by rare bonding bill stall under legislative dealmaker Bakk


‘s rare bonding bill stall.

It was not surprising that an experienced DFL state senator, who had recently become independent, was asked to lead efforts by the Legislature to finance public construction projects in the state.

Sen. Sen. Bakk predicted that despite the divided Legislature, a bonding bill would be a success because it was not linked to other parts of a larger budget deal.

span style=”font weight: 400 The bonding bill is actually the thing everyone expects to get done in the election year,” Bakk said to reporters on the eve the last day of May’s legislative session. Bakk said that the bonding bill may be the only thing that passes. Maybe everything else is falling apart .”

Everything fell apart, even the bonding bill.

“Our people are very disappointed and kind of befuddled” that the Legislature could not pass a bonding law this year, said Bradley Peterson. He is the executive director of Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities which lobby on behalf of cities looking for bonding support to fund wastewater infrastructure projects.

Bradley Peterson

A bonding bill may still be possible to pass in a special legislative session before the end. It would be the first time in at least 1983 that the Legislature fails to pass a bonding bill within a two year budget cycle, according to Patrick Hogan, spokesperson for Minnesota Management and Budget.

Each bonding bill is unique, but they all pay for roads and bridges and wastewater infrastructure. They also fund renovations to colleges, universities, affordable housing, and upgrades to state parks, trails, and state parks. When legislators are focusing on writing a state budget for two years, they tend to approve smaller bonding legislation in odd-numbered year. However, in even-numbered years, they will approve larger bonding bills.

They are popular politically. Local government officials and unions representing construction often support bonding. They believe it creates jobs, helps counties and cities build projects, and spreads costs throughout the state rather than saddling a few local taxpayers with large bills.

Bonding bills can be political tricky. A 60 percent supermajority of the Legislature must approve general obligation bonds that are central to capital budgets. To get passage, the majority party must work with the political minorities.

However, legislators tend to support bonding bills in order to create jobs and public works projects in many districts.

No deal

The Republican-led Senate, DFL-majority House, had plans to pass a bonding bill by 2021. Bakk became an independent. However, negotiations were stalled due to opposition from minority House Republicans who felt frustrated with a bigger budget deal.

It was predicted that it would happen this coming year, but what did it actually do?

Bakk declined to comment this week on the impasse. Bakk told reporters that he was negotiating with Senate and House leaders to create a bill that placed “heavy emphasis” upon preservation of state assets, deferred maintenance, and preserved state assets. This was his top priority. The issue of a pool of money to fund local projects was still up for discussion. On the final night of session, Kurt Daudt (R-Crown), House Minority Leader, stated that the House GOP was open for a bonding bill being brought to the House floor. However, talks “broke down at one point” and he wasn’t sure why.

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Two days before the end of the May legislative session, State Senator Tom Bakk said to reporters that the “bonding bill” was the thing everyone expected would be passed in the coming election year. It could be the only thing that passes. Maybe everything else is falling apart.

Representative Fue Lee of Minneapolis, a DFLer, stated that they never reached a deal. The bonding bill was agreed to be worth $1.4billion by lawmakers, but the details were not decided. Bakk has

opposed Lee’s plans

This includes certain spending that is aimed at racial equality nonprofits in a bonding law.

Lee said however that the larger picture, in which both the House and Senate couldn’t agree to spend Minnesota’s historic surplus, drained a capital budget.

State Rep. Fue Lee

Proponents of the bonding bill claim that there are many factors at work.

Joel Smith, the president and business manager of the Minnesota and North Dakota chapters of Laborers’ Inter Union of North American, stated that there was much to be blamed, but that he was disappointed with Senate Republicans for “walking away” from the larger taxes and spending agreements struck with Gov. Tim Walz and House DFL. The Senate GOP argues that the DFL won’t be able to negotiate key issues such as health and human service spending.

Walz had been hoping for a special session of the legislature that would include a bonding law. He suggested that the Senate GOP might not be able to pass bills before an Aug. 9 primary, where many incumbent legislators will face challenges from their political left.

Peterson from the Greater Minnesota Cities coalition stated that the “increasing Polarization and Politization of Every Issue” has been a problem with the bonding bill in recent decades.

He said that incentives for legislators have changed. Because there are fewer swing districts, Democrats are concentrated in the Twin Cities metro area and Republicans in Greater Minnesota. Therefore, lawmakers aren’t being punished for failing to pass bills as harshly as they used to be. Peterson also said that newer legislators are more driven by ideology than results, a break in an older era with Bakk-style horse-trading dealmaking.

Peterson stated that the Legislature is also dependent on the idea of a “global agreement” in which everything or nothing can be passed. He said that all of these pieces were so interconnected.

Rare misstep on capital budget has real consequences

It will be noted that the Legislature has not approved a capital budget for this year.

Hogan, spokesperson for Minnesota Management and Budget, stated that the only years in which there has been no bonding legislation were 2004 and 2016. (In 2019, lawmakers authorized new debt. However, the Legislature only changed bonds from 2018 that were backed by the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund into general obligation bonds as a result of a lawsuit. )

Peterson stated that the Legislature had “generally made up” and passed a large bonding bill, after having missed a year. However, capital budget supporters argue that there are good reasons to act immediately.

Projects have become more costly due to inflation, one said. In June, Austin Mayor Steve King stated that the cost to overhaul the city’s wastewater treatment plant rose from $84 million to $100 million in just three months. Peterson stated that the state will need water infrastructure in the next 20-years, and this number is expected to grow.

Although it’s difficult to estimate how many jobs a bonding bill generates, LIUNA uses a model from Associated General Contractors to calculate that a capital investment bill worth $1.7 billion creates approximately 21,500 direct and indirect jobs.

Legislators could lose some federal cash or delay funding for the congressional infrastructure bill if they don’t pass bonding legislation. Smith from LIUNA stated that he is hopeful that a deal will still be reached. After all, the $1.87 billion bonding bill was passed by 2020 legislators in October.

Lee believes that a bonding bill can help fulfill a promise to people of color and low-income Minnesotans to get investment in a process they had difficulties navigating. Lee, who was elected chair of the House’s bonding commission in 2021 for Hermantown Democrat Mary Murphy has pushed for projects that he believes will promote racial equality.

Bakk could see a bonding bill as a major accomplishment before he retires from the Legislature. Leaving the DFL after the 2020 election gave him a chance to lead the Senate’s bonding committee in the Republican-controlled chamber.

At least so far, Lee and Bakk are both 0-for-2 when it comes to bonding bills.

This means that dozens of projects throughout the state, including some within their own borders, have not received bonding money.

REUTERS/Eric Miller
Gov. Tim Walz

Walz recommended Vermilion Community College in Ely spend $3 million to renovate six classrooms built in 1971 and 1985. The college will also fix a leaky roof that causes ongoing water damage and update two bathrooms to comply with disability law. According to a proposal, the “classroom conditions” will continue to deteriorate without the money. This could lead to prospective students looking elsewhere for a college that is more technologically advanced and modern.

in Walz’s budget documents


The governor also recommended $12,000,000 for the Department of Natural Resources in order to construct a new visitor centre, expand trails, campsites, and make other improvements at Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground Mine, a state park in northeast Minnesota. In the governor’s proposal, the DNR request was the largest for any one park.

“It’s really our mining history that is highlighted in that park.” Ann Pierce, director for Parks and Trails at DNR said about the new visitor center. It’s our mining history that is highlighted by that park .”

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