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'Not doing these things is going to have consequences': Walz unveils $1.3B bonding bill

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz on Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019, presented a $1.3 billion proposal to fund projects throughout the state in an affordable housing unit for veterans at Fort Snelling. Dana Ferguson / FORUM NEWS SERVICE

ST. PAUL -- The state should take advantage of the current low interest rates and pass a $1.3 billion bonding bill to cover the cost of a slate of projects, Gov. Tim Walz said Tuesday, Feb. 26.

The call from the Democratic-Farmer-Labor governor came in a nonbonding year at the Legislature and while it bucked the state's traditional schedule, Walz said it was crucial to pass the bill to resolve some of the state's most pressing issues.

Republican leaders, however, were quick to pump the brakes on the proposal's prospects. They said the governor should stick to the schedule of tackling bonding bills in even-numbered years and two-year budgets in odd-numbered ones.

Despite that, Walz said he would make the case to Minnesotans that the Legislature should act on the bonding bill and his proposed spending plan this year.

"I'm going to make the case that this is not a wishlist to me, this is what's needed," Walz said. "Not doing these things is going to have consequences."

Walz presented the bill in the kitchen of an affordable housing unit for veterans at Fort Snelling. And he used the setting to highlight the state's need for affordable housing and for housing options for veterans. His proposal would allocate $150 million for affordable housing projects across the state and $10 million to renew veterans housing units.

His proposal would also fund $300 million in construction projects at the University of Minnesota and State College and University system, provide a $150 million boost for affordable housing projects and transportation infrastructure, fund $100 million each for the Local Road Improvement Program and Local Bridge Replacement Program and put $64 million toward rail safety improvements.

The governor said the state should leverage the state's AAA bond rating and additional debt capacity to get some of the state's projects in the works this year while interest rates are low.

"It is fiscally irresponsible to pretend like our roads, our infrastructure, our prisons, our transportation system, anything that's out there is going to magically mix itself without having the courage to talk about how we get there," Walz said.

But others suggested that the bonding proposal should wait until after lawmakers can craft a budget.

“We’re not saying ‘no,’ to a bonding bill, we’re saying ‘not yet,’" Senate Capital Investment Committee Chair David Senjem, R-Rochester, 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.”

State Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Acton Township, serves as the minority lead on the House Capital Investment Committee. He said historically lawmakers have passed bonding bills closer to $250 million in nonbonding years and that's closer to what Republicans might be willing to accept.

"Could we do more than that? We might be able to," Urdahl said. "But $1.27 billion is fairly far beyond the range of what we would be doing at this point."

Three-fifths of the lawmakers in the House and Representatives would have to support the bonding proposal to pass it into law.