Hopes that this would be a big year for housing at the Minnesota Legislature have been pared down to a few lines in the House and Senate bonding bills.
Efforts to increase state funding for road, bridge and transit improvements have come down this year to additional borrowing for highway projects, authorized in the bonding bills.
Higher education advocates’ pleas for more operating funds have been rebuffed. But what they really need this year is help maintaining aging campus facilities, and that help must come in a bonding bill.
For those reasons and more, a shudder went through the State Capitol on Wednesday when the Senate’s version of the bonding bill failed to get the requisite 41 votes on the floor. The bill could muster only a party-line 34-33 vote. Minority DFLers made clear that in order to win their votes, the $825 million total general obligation bonding package needs to be larger and needs to include funding for transit, which now stands at $0 in the bill.
In these final days of this year’s session, Minnesotans should urge Republicans to move in the DFL’s direction and put that prize on a surer path to enactment. The bonding bill is a don’t-go-home-without-it measure — and this year, legislators who want something to show for three months in St. Paul might really need it.
Many Minnesotans’ early ambitions for this session have been diminished or dashed. Measures to keep guns away from dangerous people, enlist the pharmaceutical industry in battling opioid abuse and bar hand-held cellphone use while driving have faltered.
Gov. Mark Dayton’s veto Thursday felled the year’s major tax bill. Its revival depends on striking a bargain with the governor over his desire for a one-year boost in K-12 funding — talks that we think should have started soon after Dayton unveiled his May 1 proposal. A veto threat also hangs over a massive omnibus spending bill. Long-expected moves to sever some of its components from the main bill and send them to Dayton separately have not yet occurred.
Against that backdrop, legislative leaders ought to sense political urgency in the enactment of a bonding bill that’s large enough to respond to a host of sorely felt needs.
Take housing. Calls for government intervention in a housing market that is not working for too many Minnesotans have been heard for much of this decade. They were a major theme in municipal elections last year. This week, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey unveiled a proposal for a fourfold increase in the city budget’s spending on affordable housing.
Advocates at the Homes for All coalition were hoping for a similarly ramped-up response from the 2018 Legislature. But their call for a new tax credit to spur private investment in affordable housing resulted in a plan to study the matter. And their request for $140 million in the bonding bill — $30 million to upgrade public housing, $110 million to develop more privately owned supportive rental housing and community land trusts — has been shaved to $60 million in the House and $35 million in the Senate. The bills also provide $25 million to $50 million for temporary housing for people with mental illness who have been incarcerated — a needed service, but tangential to the coalition’s request.
Elizabeth Glidden, the former Minneapolis City Council member who is in her rookie year as a Minnesota Housing Partnership executive, said that despite the rollback from the coalition’s request, she’s “generally pleased” with the House’s version. Moreover, she expects the Senate’s housing bid to climb — provided its bill is restarted in the next three days.
The Legislature must cease action on bills at 12 a.m. Monday. A bonding bill should be on its way to the governor well before the midnight hour. This year especially, that bill is too important to be delayed.