Except for state capitol, delay bonding until next year

Traditionally, the Minnesota Legislature has produced an operating budget in the first year of the legislative session, and postponed bonding for capital improvements, except for emergencies, until the second year of the biennium. That way, incumbents can cut ribbons on projects close enough to an election so the voters haven’t forgotten.

Now, however, Gov. Dayton proposed a $738 million bonding bill, and a few days later, the DFL-controlled House outbid him, proposing $822 million.

The key to bonding bills is that they have to have a supermajority of 60 percent to pass, which means that some Republicans have to join the majority DFL or nothing gets done.

In the past, bonding bills rarely came in larger than $1 billion — for the biennium. Unless the plan is to scale way back on bonding in an election year, which would be a political miracle, this year’s bill seems excessive.

This is particularly so because one emergency that has to be addressed is repairs to the state capitol building. So far everyone agrees that about $110 million should be spent this year on that project alone, but the plan is to bond for another $90 million next year to complete the task.

The argument for not waiting to bond is twofold. First, with record-low interest rates, a delay may result in paying more interest. Second, with inflation gaining steam, projects will cost that much more next year. Either the Federal Reserve will try to restore the value of the dollar by increasing interest rates, which seems doubtful, or inflation will continue to spiral upward.

Either way, however, the state is adding on debt — and at some point debt has to be repaid with interest.

As with everything at the Legislature, games are being played. We see Morrison County’s legislators, Rep. Ron Kresha and Sen. Paul Gazelka,  both conservatives, being unlikely to accept that much bonding. However, the House proposal does include $2 million for land acquisition for the Camp Ripley Veterans Trail. Rep. John Ward, DFL-Brainerd, is a co-author of the bonding bill, and that item is important to him as well as area residents, Kresha and Gazelka.

Votes undoubtedly will be cast in hopes of putting some legislators in a bad light, but if we had our druthers, the funding for the state capitol repairs would be approved this year, and then the remainder of the bonding requests could be sorted out next year. Our fear is that as the election nears, between this year’s bonding bill and next year’s, incumbents will put an excessive obligation on future taxpayers.

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