All Minnesota communities are strongest when connected.
The state’s crumbling infrastructure is putting Minnesotans’ way of life at risk. We need to invest meaningfully in rural revitalization, public transit expansion, and border-to-border broadband. Updating our aging infrastructure and utility systems will help our people, communities, and businesses grow sustainably while providing family- and community-supporting wages and benefits.
Two devastating fires in Minneapolis public housing units at the end of 2019 renewed the effort to ensure all public housing buildings have working sprinkler systems. Legislators will be requesting funding to help housing authorities retrofit older buildings that currently are not equipped with sprinkler systems, and some lawmakers also may seek to expand the requirement to private housing. State and federal lawmakers are seeking different potential funding sources to ensure any efforts to improve current safety standards in housing units do not strain current financial resources that could be used to provide new affordable housing – a great need across the state.
As of January 15, there were $5 billion in bonding requests ($3.7 billion in state agency requests and $1.3 billion in local government requests). Governor Walz was first to release his priorities, which totaled $2 billion in general obligation bonds. House DFLers and Senate Republicans have yet to release their proposals and likely won’t until late in the legislative session.
Senate Republicans have indicated an interest in doing a bonding bill but have opposed the size of the Governor’s proposal. Republicans do this despite knowing that deferred maintenance on existing infrastructure creates a larger, more expensive problem in the future. Additionally, other important projects would be delayed across the state, which will result in these projects also becoming more expensive in the future.
The Governor’s bonding requests are organized into five main priority areas:
Housing: $276 million in safe and affordable housing, including $200 million in Housing Infrastructure Bonds to be awarded on a competitive basis to housing developers, and $60 million for Public Housing Rehabilitation Funding. This also includes $14.9 million to improve security and maintain veterans homes across the state.
Water Quality & Infrastructure: $293 million in GO bonds and an additional $7.2 million in other financing for water quality and infrastructure projects to fix aging water infrastructure and help ensure every Minnesotan has access to clean, safe drinking water.
Higher Education: $447 million in GO bonds and an additional $41 million in other financing to maintain campuses, upgrade classrooms and labs, and modernize the student experience to ensure our schools remain on the cutting edge.
Public Safety and Asset Preservation: $673 million in GO bonds and an additional $184 million in other financing to improve public safety and ensure public infrastructure is safe, reliable, and sustainable. This includes efforts to clean up hazardous waste, fix local roads and bridges, and various local projects.
Quality of Life: $536 million in GO bonds and an additional $139 million in other financing to support projects that will help communities grow. This includes low-interest loans to farmers, renovating community spaces such as libraries, and building local transit and recreational trails.
The 2019 budget standoff between Gov. Walz, the House DFL Majority, and Senate Republican Majority was largely resolved due to the postponement of a comprehensive finance package for transportation. Gov. Walz agreed to pull back his proposal to increase the gas tax, tab fees, motor vehicle sales tax, and metro area sales tax for transit in order to bring the 2019 session to a timely conclusion. Funding discussions this year will frame the ongoing debate over how Minnesota should respond to the state’s increasing transportation needs.
In 2017, Senate Republicans were able to obtain an agreement to dedicate a portion of the sales tax on auto parts and auto repairs to pay for roads and bridges, which were funds previously allocated to the General Fund. In addition to advocating for a larger share of these dollars to go toward state roads and bridges, Senate Republicans may reintroduce efforts to constitutionally dedicate these funds to the Highway User Tax Distribution Fund. Siphoning dollars from the General Fund for transportation is not a sustainable solution and will hamper the ability to finance other areas of the budget.
Senate Republicans have publicly advocated for roads and bridges to be a priority in a 2020 bonding bill, as well as utilizing the $1.3 billion surplus on transportation needs. In his 2020 bonding proposal, Gov. Walz recommends $112 million on local bridge projects and $100 million on local roads, but he has consistently advocated for additional resources to fund state infrastructure. Overdependence on borrowing and one-time surpluses will not address the state’s burgeoning transportation funding needs.
- Republicans have refused to acknowledge the need for additional revenue to fund Minnesota’s roads, bridges, and public transit systems, which will result in higher infrastructure costs in the future, increased congestion, and more roads that are less safe.
- The need for additional transportation resources is
- Within the next 30 years, the equivalent population of North Dakota is moving to Minnesota and will contribute to congestion if the Legislature doesn’t find innovative solutions.
- Minnesotans already spend more than $1,300 per year in increased gasoline costs, sitting in traffic, lost productivity, air pollution, and car repairs due to shoddy roads.
- The American Society of Civil Engineers has graded Minnesota’s roads a D+, bridges a C, and transit a C-. And just because other states have poor grades doesn’t mean the entire class of 50 can’t fail—the structural integrity of a bridge shouldn’t be graded on a curve.
- Minnesota’s state highways and bridges face a $6 billion funding gap over the next 10 years, and estimates suggest a $18 billion gap just to maintain current performance of the state’s entire transportation system over the next 20 years.
Transit and Efficient Transportation
The Senate DFL supports improving mass transit and reducing its cost to make it more attractive to commuters, which will help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Minnesota’s communities. Adequately funding public transit is a critical component of environmental justice, because no Minnesotan deserves to develop health problems tied to poor air quality.
Increasing transit connects people to jobs, students to school, gives seniors greater independence, and is a proven way to alleviate poverty. It allows us to fill jobs that need workers, and to connect those who need jobs with employment.
Republicans will likely spend part of the session attacking the safety of the light rail and focusing on more police force to ensure fare enforcement as a solution. These concerns are blown out of proportion and serve to undermine the utility of transit.
Transportation contributes more greenhouse gas emissions into the environment than any other sector other than agriculture in Minnesota. While GHG emissions in the energy sector are trending down, they have an upward trajectory in the transportation sector. This provides us a strong argument to push for forms of transportation that are less carbon intensive, including transit, carpooling and HOV lanes, and electric vehicle infrastructure.
Bike and pedestrian policy are essential to include in our transportation portfolio. Creating communities that incentivize people to move from car trips to biking and walking trips will significantly help reduce GHGs from transportation. Additionally, this places transportation at the intersection of healthy communities and healthy living.
This session presents a strong opportunity to increase funding for Bus Rapid Transit, in particular, for Line D. The governor has proposed $55 million for the Busway Capital Improvement Program, creating an opportunity to expand BRT and improve existing lines.
Metro Mobility is a federally mandated program that provides ride sharing bus services to eligible participates with a disability or health condition that cannot use regular fixed route public bus services. The program is federally mandated and funded along with light rail, commuter train, and some bus services by the Met Council through a General Fund appropriation. Because Metro Mobility has quickly expanded, it has put pressure on regular route bus services and helped contribute to a 10-year, $200 million structural deficit within the Met Council.
Last session, $23 million in General Fund dollars was appropriated to the Met Council for Metro Mobility and the program was provided its own line-item within the Met Council budget, which will help to alleviate some of the pressure on their operating budget. Despite these improvements, the Met Council continues to face a long-term structural deficit that will need to be addressed by the Legislature. A half-cent metro area sales tax for transit was proposed by Gov. Walz and supported by the House DFL majority, but it remains to be seen whether this proposal could be decoupled from the governor’s comprehensive transportation funding proposal this session.
Clean Cars Standard Executive Order
By implementing clean car standards, all Minnesotans will have access to vehicles with better fuel economy and can do their part to combat climate change. With cleaner air, more car options, and less money spent on gas, every Minnesotan benefits from clean car standards.
Gov. Walz signed an executive order in September 2019 to direct the Pollution Control Agency to implement clean car standards for low-emission (LEV) and zero-emission (ZEV) vehicles. It will require vehicle manufacturers to provide more options for consumers to purchase passenger cars, trucks, and SUVs that meet these clean car standards.
The estimated outcomes of the executive order include:
The PCA has until the end of this year to implement rules for these two standards, which do not require legislative approval. The legal status of LEV and ZEV standards are currently in doubt due to a Trump administrative challenge in federal court. This session, the Senate Transportation Committee may question whether it is prudent to adopt these standards while they are being federally challenged and may claim that it will limit consumer choice in the future. Senate Republicans have attempted to spread fear that these standards are a means to “take away your pick-up truck;” expect some attempt to highlight this hype during session.
Connected and Automated Vehicles
The 2019 special session transportation omnibus bill expanded the use of connected and automated vehicles (CAV) systems through the authorization of platooning by the trucking industry. Platooning uses a wireless communication system between semi-trucks to allow them to follow more closely and draft, saving fuel and resources. While it does not remove the necessity for a driver, it will likely increase the efficiency and safety of trucking companies once it is fully implemented. A number of states have authorized the use of platooning with some success prior to Minnesota.
MnDOT is currently testing, researching, and implementing CAV projects on closed courses that may need additional legislative clarification this session. There is still bipartisan opposition to allowing fully automated vehicle testing on public roads until the technology has proven to be safe; the death of an Arizona resident in March 2018 by a privately-owned rideshare company has shaped the national debate over whether automated vehicles on public roadways are viable.