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Editorial: DFL needs GOP on state bonding

  • November 11, 2012 - 5:28 PM

Since regaining control of the Minnesota Legislature in last week's election, DFLers have been reveling in thoughts of breaking through the legislative logjams that have been a byproduct of divided government -- not just in the past two years, but the past 22. It's been that long since DFLers controlled both the Legislature and the governor's office.

But their majorities are not large enough to overcome one big point of partisan contention in recent years. It still takes a 60 percent vote in both the House and Senate to pass a bonding bill. DFLers are only one vote short of that threshhold in the Senate but are a more challenging eight votes short in the House.

"Bonding" -- that is, long-term borrowing for a wide variety of public building projects, including college campuses, transit, sewers and civic centers -- has been a fighting word at the Capitol for more than a decade.

DFLers have called for large bills since the Great Recession dawned in 2008. They've argued that the state should take advantage of postrecession interest rates, a buyer's market for construction labor and material, and the chance to put paychecks back into the hands of unemployed construction workers.

What's more, the state's infrastructure needs improvement, and higher-education investment is warranted to keep up with rising demand for skilled workers.

Debt service is a smaller component of Minnesota's state budget than in all but a handful of other states. This summer's state bond sale netted historically low interest costs, with rates ranging between 1.02 and 2.38 percent.

Despite that strong case, GOP aversion to government spending has translated into resistance for large bonding bills. The 2011 bill was half the size that DFL Gov. Mark Dayton recommended, and it came only as a last-minute sweetener in an otherwise sour shutdown-ending budget deal. The 2012 bill was a third smaller than Dayton sought.

The 2013 session stands to produce a similar result -- unless Minnesotans who value what bonding bills buy convey their views, early and often, to GOP legislators. The GOP's business allies should feel a particular obligation to speak up.

The projects that are high on our list of unfinished bonding business include the Southwest Corridor light-rail project; civic center upgrades in Rochester, Mankato and St. Cloud; improvements to the Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis, and a major renovation of the State Capitol itself. All of those projects stand to benefit much more than their immediate locales. All of them have waited long enough.

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