Column: House bonding committee dedicated to A.L.

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 21, 2008

By Alice Haussman, Guest Column

A healthy transportation and public works infrastructure is vital to Minnesota&8217;s economic success and prosperity. A deteriorating infrastructure dims our chances for economic success.

This week, Gov. Tim Pawlenty released his proposal for a bonding bill. Among other projects, it calls for borrowing $225 million to fix 600 state bridges.

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In fact, transportation makes up nearly 40 percent of the governor&8217;s bonding package &8212; a bill that&8217;s more traditionally used to maintain clean water infrastructure, repair and replace state college and university buildings, and to support critical regional projects that protect lives, property, and natural resources.

Clearly, bonding can play an important role in solving our infrastructure needs but as a component of a broader transportation package. We have traditionally put some money for local roads and bridges in the bonding bill. But when that much of the bill is dedicated to local bridges, and when we agree the final bill will be no more than $965 million, it means there is much less money left for public colleges and university campuses, for clean water infrastructure and for all of those other projects of statewide and regional significance.

The case for both a comprehensive transportation package and a strategic investment package in public works projects is even more compelling than in previous years. This week also brought grim news that Minnesota&8217;s unemployment rate had climbed to 4.9 percent in December, capping a string of job losses totaling more than 23,000 in all over the last six months. That&8217;s the worst string of jobs numbers since the 2001 U.S. economic downturn.

According to state economist Tom Stinson, &8220;Minnesota is in a recession. I don&8217;t see how you can label it anything else.&8221;

There is a clear link between Minnesota&8217;s falling employment numbers, the neglected condition of our state&8217;s infrastructure, the current state of our troubled economy and the kind of economic stimulus that a carefully crafted public works bill, coupled with a transportation package, could provide.

In tours throughout the state this fall and winter, the House Capital Investment Committee saw firsthand how bonding for projects of statewide importance, coupled with strategic assistance for important regional projects will serve the public interest in a number or ways.

One project that meets the urgency threshold for funding is the cleanup of the former landfill beneath North Edgewater Park in Albert Lea, where vinyl choride and other chemicals from the landfill are leaching into the waters of Fountain Lake &8212; water that will eventually become our drinking water.

This project not only protects the health and safety of Minnesotans &8212; arguably the highest charge of the state government &8212; but it has the potential to put folks to work to ease the downward jobs slide we&8217;ve been on. It was included in last year&8217;s vetoed bonding bill, but unfortunately, Gov. Pawlenty neglected to include it in his recommendations this year.

However, the House Capital Investment committee remains committed to the project and is confident that we will partner with the local community to move the project forward.

Among, the most pressing issues the Legislature will take up this session are the transportation bill and the capital investment bills. Both bills put people to work all over the state. Both are essential. Both are vital components of a vibrant Minnesota future.

State Representative Alice Hausman is chair of the Minnesota House Capital Investment Division.