If a correction to chronic water seepage in the walls of the Science Museum of Minnesota can start this summer, repairs will stay manageable enough to proceed without closing the museum to visitors.
But if the Legislature does not contribute $13 million in state bond proceeds, repairs will be delayed at least a year. Water damage will worsen. The work will grow more costly and will likely require at least partial closure when it finally commences. That’s why John Stanoch spent his final days last week as the museum’s interim president pleading with legislators to pass a bonding bill that includes the Science Museum.
Meanwhile, 170 miles to the west, Morris city manager Blaine Hill was also rooting for a bonding bill. His city’s treatment plant needs an $18 million upgrade by 2020 to meet state standards for outflow into the Pomme de Terre River. Gov. Mark Dayton’s bonding proposal would cover about two-thirds of that cost, Hill said. Without it, water bills in Morris could double.
Morris officials are also hoping for an increase in state aid to cities, Hill added. That’s a provision in a Senate tax bill that has been stalled in conference committee for a year. Hill recently advised Morris city officials that without more state aid, service cuts and/or higher property taxes will be needed next year.
Hill and Stanoch are among many Minnesotans whose eyes will be on the State Capitol the next two weeks as the session’s May 23 constitutional deadline approaches. Last week, they watched with growing concern as a Senate DFL-designed $1.5 billion bonding bill failed by one vote to achieve the supermajority required to send it to a conference committee. That bill’s slide into limbo — and the House GOP majority’s refusal last week to release details of a promised $600 million version — added to worries that the 2016 session could be a bust.
Some legislators have said that “nothing needs to pass,” noting that the state budget is set through mid-2017. But Minnesotans need more from state government than the avoidance of calamity. If the Legislature does not deliver four bills — a supplemental budget, taxes, transportation and a bonding bill — lost opportunities and higher costs will be keenly felt in many places. For instance:
• Southwest light-rail transit’s fate likely hangs on whether this Legislature finds a way to provide the $135 million state contribution that a federal match requires.
• Breckenridge’s 80-year-old drinking water treatment plant cannot wait for a $13 million upgrade. “Every component is corroded,” said Jeff Freeman, director of the Minnesota Public Facilities Authority. Dayton’s proposal would allow Breckenridge a $5 million grant and an $8 million loan.
• St. Paul is counting on Major League Soccer’s expansion to revitalize a long-blighted corner at Snelling and University avenues. The franchise likely won’t come without authorization of sales and property tax relief for the proposed privately funded stadium.
• Both the Anoka-Metro Regional Treatment Center and the Minnesota Security Hospital at St. Peter need upgrades in staffing levels and facilities to correct increasingly unsafe conditions for patients, staff and ultimately the public.
These are but a few of many chances to make a positive difference that legislators can seize in coming days. Doing so will require moving out of partisan comfort zones and away from first choices. That entails political risk — especially when inaction appears to offer partisan advantage in the November election.
That appearance is deceiving. A restive electorate has been demonstrating in both parties’ presidential contests that it is impatient with politics as usual. When state government control is divided — as it has been in 24 of the past 26 years — “the usual” has too often been gridlock. If that’s the sorry result of the 2016 session, voters’ response this fall could be harshly unpredictable.