Even-numbered years in the Minnesota legislature usually are reserved for capital investment work. Members advocate for local, public projects that could use financial help and the legislature compiles a package of recommendations to receive state funding.
The money for these projects is not derived from the state’s General Fund budget. Instead, the state sells bonds in order to pay for the projects. It’s considered to be a financially responsible way to provide support to public projects that, if completed, would have a broad benefit for the state or a specific region.
This week, the House and Senate each passed their versions of this year’s capital investment bill. I was very happy to see that several projects important to our area were included in the Senate’s bill. The Hormel Institute, arguably a project with the biggest potential for statewide impact, is recommended to be fully funded at $13.5 million. This project will result in over 120 new, permanent, high paying jobs in our community and huge scientific advances that could benefit the entire state’s economy.
Another important project to our region, as well as many others in Minnesota, is flood mitigation. This year, $30 million is recommended to be appropriated to the Department of Natural Resources, which then will distribute funds to areas around the state that have flood-prevention projects. The City of Austin and Shell Rock River Watershed District are both eligible for these funds. Previous bonding dollars that have been dedicated for this purpose have gone a long way toward helping communities be more prepared for flood disasters. It’s an important investment that I am glad the Senate is willing to support.
The Reinvest In Minnesota program, which both the Shell Rock River and Cedar River Watershed Districts have made effective use of, also received $6 million in funding in the Senate’s bonding bill, providing incentives for land owners to help fund the acquisition and development of critical fish and wildlife habitats. The DNR is recommended to receive $5 million to invest in five listed state trails, including the Shooting Star Trail. In addition, $20 million is recommended for local bridge improvements around the state. It’s no secret that Minnesota’s bridge infrastructure is in serious decline. Anything we can do to support improvement projects is important.
I’m happy that the Senate bill supports these important measures and I am going to work hard to make sure they are included in the final version of the bill. The House version doesn’t have as much support for local projects right now so we will need to work with that body to support our priorities.
This process would be easier if both the House and Senate would come closer to the Governor’s preference for a larger capital investment bill. The bonding process presents a unique opportunity to use a relatively conservative funding mechanism to make significant investments in projects that benefit our entire state. Local communities and statewide institutions, such as Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, rely on bonding dollars to support needed improvements. This is just a common-sense way to do some really good things for our state, and I would hope that’s something lawmakers from both parties could get behind.
The House and Senate will begin working out differences between their two bills in the coming days. If you have any questions on the status of our local projects or anything else, please contact me any time at: firstname.lastname@example.org; 651-296-9248; Room 19 State Office Building, St. Paul, MN 55155.