Minnesota governor

Gov. Tim Walz answers a question from a reporter during a Jan. 26 news conference to debut his state budget plan for the next two years at the Department of Revenue building in St. Paul.

Gov. Tim Walz unveiled a $518 million infrastructure proposal Monday, far smaller than his infrastructure spending recommendations in previous years and with few local projects.

Walz recommends the Minnesota Legislature spend approve $74.9 million in state asset preservation projects, including $52.5 million for Department of Natural Resources-related projects. The governor also would like to see $43 million go toward upgrading security at the St. Paul Capitol grounds, $100 million in housing bonds for affordable housing projects, $10 million toward a second Amtrak passenger rail from Minneapolis to Chicago via Milwaukee, and $62.4 million toward renovating the Minnesota State college and university system’s various buildings.

The biggest part of Walz’s public works proposal is $150 million in appropriation bonds for rebuilding Minneapolis and St. Paul buildings and businesses affected by the protests and riots last summer in the wake of George Floyd’s killing by Minneapolis police officers.

Republicans staunchly oppose that proposal, arguing Minneapolis needs to shoulder more of the financial cost of rebuilding. GOP lawmakers have also taken issue with state money going toward metro businesses when business owners across the state have been impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“If we’re going to help the small businesses in Minneapolis, I think it has to be part of a package that addresses those issues,” said Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska.

Torkelson, a former chair of the House committee that deals with infrastructure bills, said he thinks Republicans can agree with the size of Walz’s proposal but doubts Republicans in the House or Senate will support bonding funding going toward Minneapolis and St. Paul.

The Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities criticized Walz’s proposal for its lack of water infrastructure funding.

“Dozens of cities currently have projects in the works to repair aging facilities or replace outdated equipment, and more than 300 cities are expected to undergo major water infrastructure improvements over the next 20 years,” Little Falls Mayor Greg Zylka, who serves as the coalition’s president, said in a statement. “The Legislature must continue to make significant investments in water infrastructure to keep up with this growing need.”

Democrats welcomed the governor’s proposal. House Capital Investment Chair Fue Lee of Minneapolis said in a statement Walz’s proposal “puts Minnesota on the right track” while Sen. Nick Frentz, DFL-North Mankato, said he supports efforts to fund as much statewide infrastructure as possible.

Walz’s budget proposal marks the starting point for negotiations on a potential infrastructure bill, also called bonding bills because Minnesota borrows money to pay for the projects.

Larger bonding bills are normally crafted in even-numbered years and smaller bills are often put together in odd-numbered years. Lawmakers have pushed for major bonding funding each year for the past few years, however, as infrastructure needs pile up across Minnesota.

Both Democrats and Republicans say they’re open to a bonding bill that targets critical infrastructure such as water, sewer and stormwater systems or roads and bridges.

There were more than $5.3 billion in bonding requests in 2020.

A Free Press analysis in 2019 showed Minnesota needs more than $70 billion over the next 20 years to address most anticipated infrastructure needs, excluding housing and local government requests. That means lawmakers would need to approve about $4 billion for bonding each year to deal with known infrastructure issues.

Local impact

The Legislature passed a $1.9 billion bonding bill last year, which contained funding for several local projects. Yet several of those projects are back for discussion this year as cities, higher education institutions and other organizations seek more funding for projects.

Mankato received about $7.2 million out of a $16.6 million request to work on Minnesota River riverbank stabilization, which would include a water reclamation facility to help protect nearby wells.

City officials say they’re going to push for at least $8.2 million this year for a pared-down project that won’t include planned stabilization to nearby Indian Creek. That request will include funding to deal with a previously unknown dumping area with materials about 80 to 100 years old.

Mankato also is requesting funding for about 100 acres of land west of Monks Avenue to Rosewood Pond on the southern side of town. City officials hope to turn at least 40 acres back into wetlands as part of a water quality restoration project to help reduce sediments, phosphates and nitrates into the Minnesota River.

The Department of Human Services is looking for more support to renovate the Minnesota Sex Offender Program facilities at the St. Peter Regional Treatment Center.

The project, which was estimated to cost about $18.3 million last year, involves adding more community transitional facilities following a 2015 ruling the program was unconstitutionally keeping sex offenders with no hope for release. An appeals court later overturned that ruling, but advocates have pushed for state officials to improve its transition programming.

North Mankato officials hope to get the remaining $8.5 million out of a $10.5 million request from the state for a proposed indoor recreational center at Caswell Park. The city received $2 million in last year’s bonding bill.

Area lawmakers say their biggest priority is Minnesota State University’s $6.7 million request for a proposed redesign of Armstrong Hall. The university plans to demolish the building and rebuild it at about two-thirds of its size for about $100 million, which university officials say is cheaper than trying to renovate the decades-old building.

“I hope we’ll be able to advocate for as much local project funding as we can get,” Frentz said.

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