Walz lays out final pieces of $2 billion state borrowing plan; Albert Lea projects make it into bonding bill

Published 9:10 pm Wednesday, January 15, 2020

By Tim Pugmire, Minnesota Public Radio News


DFL Gov. Tim Walz on Wednesday rolled out the final part of his plan to borrow more than $2 billion for public construction projects. A bonding measure is expected to get a lot of attention from state lawmakers when the 2020 legislative session begins on February 11, but Republicans who control the state Senate say the governor’s list of projects is too expensive.

Tim Walz

The final installment of the governor’s public works borrowing plan covers public safety-related projects, transportation and upgrades to several state facilities. Walz began laying out the plan last week, when he announced affordable housing projects. That was followed by water infrastructure and higher education.

The total plan is made up of projects Minnesota communities are asking for, Walz said.

“The needs are real. Interest rates are low. There’s no reason not to act. We’ve had the privilege of going everywhere from East Grand Forks to Duluth to Minneapolis to Marshall, and we’ve seen it firsthand,” he said.

The governor’s latest list of bonding projects includes security upgrades at the state Capitol, remodeling of the Minnesota Sex Offender program in St. Peter and upgrades to the Minnesota Zoo.

There are also several transportation projects, totaling more than $300 million. The list includes rail crossings, local bridge replacements and local road improvements.

“This proposal goes a long way, partnering with local government, to make sure that those roads and bridges are safe and secure,” said transportation commissioner Margaret Anderson Kelliher, adding that local officials have not been able to keep up on their own.

Walz made the bonding announcement at the state Emergency Operation Center in the downtown St. Paul offices of the Department of Public Safety. His plan would provide more than $29 million to replace and relocate the facility.

Public safety commissioner John Harrington said the facility is inadequate to respond to disasters and emergencies.

“This is not an ‘if it’s going to happen.’ It’s a ‘when it happens,’ and it’s happening with greater and greater frequency. Without a working and available EOC the state is scrambling, losing precious time in that process,” Harrington said.

Bonding bills are considered the main task of even-year legislative sessions. A 60 percent supermajority is needed in both the House and Senate to pass them.

Republicans have been critical of the size of the Walz bonding plan.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said this week that he wants to pass a bonding bill this year that focuses on big projects. He wants roads, bridges and water infrastructure in the bill. But Gazelka said he wants to stay under $1 billion.

“I think it should be closer to the numbers that we had before. The last two were $825 million and $988 million. That’s the last two. The closer it is to that number, the more support I have for it.”

But the governor, as well as Minnesota management and budget commissioner Myron Frans, insisted that the state has more than sufficient financial capacity to take on the proposed $2 billion in borrowing.

Walz urged lawmakers to keep an open mind.

“I hope the Legislature does their work. Hold hearings. Bring in the mayors. Talk to people about what these are,” he said. “Don’t come with an ideological rigid place that does not match up with the facts, that does not hold up with the math and is not the place where Minnesotans and their elected leaders are at.”



Albert Lea projects make it into bonding bill

By Sarah Stultz, Albert Lea Tribune


Two Albert Lea projects made it into Gov. Tim Walz’s bonding bill announced Wednesday.

The bill includes $3.5 million for flood mitigation for East Main Street and $1.75 million for the completion of the Blazing Star Trail.

Albert Lea City Manager David Todd said he is happy the governor included the projects in his recommendations and is hopeful that the House and Senate will also agree that these are two important projects to move forward.

“Hopefully we can keep that momentum forward, so we can get these projects done,” Todd said.

The flood mitigation would involve raising East Main Street — which is also known as U.S. Highway 65 — above flood levels or installing large storm water pumps to keep flood levels lower than the roadway when the highway is slated for a mill and overlay in 2021. It would keep the road from having to be closed for long periods of time during flooding.

The funds for the Blazing Star Trail include construction of two embankments, a 100-foot pedestrian bridge over Albert Lea Lake and associated trail work. The trail has been in the works since 1996 when it was authorized by the Legislature.

The city’s request for $20 million for development of the Blazing Star Landing and the Shell Rock River Watershed District’s request for $7.5 million for further dredging of Fountain Lake were not included in the bill.

The bill included more than $2 billion of public construction projects.