By Don Heinzman, Guest Columnist
With about 176,000 Minnesotans out of work, Gov. Mark Dayton’s bonding bill, which a study says will create 21,700 jobs, should be considered immediately. All or major portions of it should be approved in time for the upcoming construction season.
This is the time to end political infighting over such a serious matter. Minnesotans expect legislators to do all within their power to put more people back to work in this state.
The $750 million bonding bill is intended to build roads and bridges, flood projects and important buildings for the University of Minnesota and state colleges and universities.
It includes bonding for an educational facility at Camp Ripley, an addition to the science building at Anoka Ramsey College and money to renovate transportation and emerging technologies at Dakota Technical College.
While some will question spending funds for a new minor league ball park in St. Paul and a facelift of the Nicollet Mall, let the debate begin on the merits of all these proposals.
Within this bill is $25 million for development of the Southwest Corridor system that would extend light rail, including 17 stations from the Target Center in Minneapolis to Eden Prairie.
When all of the governmental matching and other funds are added, the total for the state’s bonding bill expenditures could reach $1 billion.
Not surprisingly, House Majority Leader Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, says this is not the time to borrow money to create jobs. He disputes Dayton’s job estimate from the bill and says there’s still $1.5 billion in bonding money remaining to be spent.
Dayton says he bases his jobs estimate on a study by Dr. Stephen Foster of George Mason University. Dean, on the other hand, has no study to contradict the jobs estimate.
Dean says selling bonds to create jobs may feel good, and may be something people want to do, but it’s not a proven winner.
The majority leader should tell that to all those in the construction industry that is in a depression. During the last six years, one third of the construction jobs in Minnesota have disappeared.
What should impress Republican legislators is that this money will go to private sector construction businesses that are hurting. Most of the state construction and infrastructure projects will go to the highest private sector bidder.
Republicans rightly are reminding us that the Minnesota Legislature approved a $535 million bonding bill last session.
House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, contends bonding projects should be for critical infrastructure like repairing deteriorating roads and bridges, not local “pet projects.”
That, of course, should be a major criteria. Legislators should realize, however, that they represent all of the people in their districts, particularly the unemployed who are counting on them.