MN governor proposes $1.5B bond bill to fund infrastructure
- Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton proposed a $1.5 billion bond bill that would pay for a wide variety of public works projects, according to the Star Tribune.
- Projects specified in the bill include more than $540 million for work at University of Minnesota campuses statewide; $100 million for affordable housing projects; $50 million for an express bus system; $30 million for work at Fort Snelling in St. Paul; and $12 million for a renovation of the Stone Arch Bridge in Minneapolis. Minnesota communities submitted proposals for projects totaling $857 million that they wanted included in the governor's plan, but Dayton rejected those in favor of initiatives that focused on "preserving state assets," according to Management and Budget Commissioner Myron Frans.
- The governor referred to the state's Triple-A bond rating as a reason for addressing the need for state infrastructure improvements. Dayton must win the backing of the state's elected Republicans, who have previously resisted passing bonding bills that cost more than $1 billion.
Dayton, a member of the state's Democratic-Farmer-Labor party, is used to run-ins with Minnesota GOP members, who have previously pushed back on his spending proposals. In fact, about this same time last year, Dayton proposed a similar program of public works spending, also paid for on the back of the state's high credit rating. As he did this week, Dayton wanted the legislature to approve $1.5 billion of spending, but settled for $988 million. In 2016, Dayton and state Democrats came up one vote short of passing a $1.8 billion bill.
Perhaps no project exemplifies the hostility that can build between Dayton and state GOP members than the $1.9 billion Southwest LRT project in Minneapolis. In 2016, state lawmakers refused to provide the project with the necessary money to meet the federal matching funds requirement. The Metropolitan Council, which is in charge of the light-rail project, came up with the shortfall, effectively executing an end-run around the wishes of Republicans, reportedly with Dayton's support.
Since then, Republicans have petitioned the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to send them the $900 million in Southwest LRT grant funds instead so that they can pay for other state infrastructure projects, a request the FTA denied.
Before the Metropolitan Council can apply for the FTA grant, however, it needs to iron out some problems in its bid process. Last month, the agency changed the project's specifications after it deemed the results of a previous bid round too expensive. The Metropolitan Council is also dealing with procedural questions around its decision to bar 36 contractors and other firms from participating in the project based on their involvement in the pre-construction phase.
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