Editorial Roundup: Plan needed to begin long overdue repairs

Published 10:00 pm Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Long overdue repairs to state and local infrastructure will soon reduce the quality of public life in Minnesota while costing taxpayers more.

That’s the only conclusion one can draw from an in-depth report in last Sunday’s Free Press that showed billions and billions of dollars in deferred maintenance in everything from wastewater treatment plants to university buildings.

State data shows Minnesota will need some $70 billion over the next 20 years to only keep up with deferred maintenance in roads, bridges, transit, airports wastewater treatment plants, sewer systems and university buildings. An analysis by The Free Press shows the bill for South Central Minnesota will be $4.1 billion to keep up with the repairs, and that’s not even including housing or local government requests.

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The deficits in deferred maintenance hit home. Minnesota State University has for years been trying to get funding for a total reconstruction of Armstrong Hall, one of the oldest and most inefficient classroom buildings on campus. It would need about $95 million to tear down the existing building and erect a new one.

The 589th Avenue bridge in Blue Earth County over the Le Sueur River is considered one of 900 in Minnesota that is structurally deficient and needs replacement. About 700 people a day use the bridge to get to Javens Winery and other places, but it will cost the county about $2 million to fix it. County officials say the need for more infrastructure funding is real.

Onetime chair of the House Capital Investment Committee Rep. Paul Torkelson of Hanska told The Free Press some of these investments can be put off and other estimates come from biased sources who would get business. If that’s a fair criticism, it doesn’t seem like it’s based on a lot of facts.

But the data is real and so are the implications. Minnesota Budget Commissioner Myron Franz told The Free Press that continuing to ignore deferred maintenance will hurt the state’s credit rating.

In a report on credit ratings, S & P Global Ratings said “At high enough levels, deferred maintenance is a credit concern, and we think this will be an area of increasing focus in our analysis. Significant underspending in maintenance can reduce asset life and increase capital costs, pressuring a government’s future financial flexibility.”

Gov. Tim Walz and the House DFL leadership have called for a bonding bill this year of between $1.3 billion and $1.5 billion. The GOP Senate leadership says they don’t want to do a bonding bill in an “off year.”

There’s a cost to not doing a bonding bill this year. Interest rates are likely to rise and inflation will only push the costs higher.

The Legislature needs to invest in infrastructure this year to give taxpayers the biggest bang for their hard-earned dollars.

— The Free Press of Mankato, May 18

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Editorials from newspapers around the state of Minnesota.

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