There's little expressed opposition to Republican state representative Tim Miller's HF14, which will fund Minnesota's Rural Finance Authority, a farm crisis-era program that's persisted. Typically, funding for the program is part of the bonding bill, Miller told the Minnesota House Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday.
What's causing concern--and those asking questions intend to vote for the bill--is that RFA isn't the only project left behind by the failure of the Minnesota House to pass a bonding bill last year.
Representative Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, minority lead in the House Capital Investment committee, and Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, asked a few questions about why this bill was being fast tracked over so many other bonding (capital investment) bills.
It's not a rural versus metro thing, the statements by both women made clear. What they didn't address is who is putting off bonding. To learn about that, Bluestem recommends Don Davis's piece for Forum Communications from late December, Don’t bet on big 2017 Minnesota bonding bill:
. . . While Republicans hold the majority in the House and Senate, they do not have enough votes to reach the required super majority to borrow money. That means Democrats who want a bigger bill, and different projects than the GOP wants, will have a say.
“We are open to a bonding bill, but it would be end of session,” said Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, who will be Senate majority leader. . . .
[Dean]Urdahl predicted a bonding bill for “some pressing projects,” but a big one will not come until 2018, “the way it normally is done.”
The representative handing the bonding gavel to Urdahl, Republican Paul Torkelson of Hanska, said he “would be very surprised” if there is a big 2017 bonding bill, adding that “it is really too bad.”
So what's the rest of Minnesota waiting for while one private sector--agriculture--goes to the head of the line? Hausman explains that it may set a precedent of individual projects going forward but other equally worthy projects being left behind. She cited an article from the Worthington Globe noting that legislators from that area are suggesting this:
Everyone in St. Paul agrees the Lewis & Clark Regional Water System needs to come to Worthington, but that isn’t the problem.
Robinson said while both houses and the Governor’s office are all in agreement that funding for the Lewis & Clark connection to Worthington is in their bill, the bonding bill is one of the last things that will be done in the legislative session in late May.
“It’s where all the bargaining chips are held; it’s the last piece of negotiation,” Robinson said.
Robinson, Hamilton and Weber don’t want to wait that long to get construction started. That’s why they’re working on standalone legislation to free up approximately $8 million in surplus funds from the money used on phase two construction from Magnolia to Adrian to be used on phase three. The extra money, which resulted from favorable bids, is locked up with a restriction that it can only be used for phase two construction.
Combined with $9 million in federal funds, Robinson said the money would get a majority of the construction done, but not all of it. The city and Lewis & Clark officials want to get the money as soon as possible in order to go out to bid early and get favorable bids.
“If it stays in the bonding bill and it passes, it would be late May, and we would lose much if not all of the 2017 construction season,” Robinson said. “The plans are done, and the easements are in place. So, if we had that $8 million, we could go out to bid within several weeks.”
As Hausman notes, other projects across the state face the problem of losing a construction season. Here's her observation:
Liebling also questioned why HF14 jumps ahead of other projects. She understood that the Minnesota Department of Agriculture couldn't make the loans for farmers but didn't know why this was more urgent than a leaking dam in Lanesboro and other infrastructure issues around the state that everyone feels are urgent in their communities.
Here's her question:
Miller responded that there was a timeliness in HF14 in that farmers need to get crops in during the spring. However, we're puzzled how this argument cancels the point that Hausman made about the construction industry, which like farming is bound by Minnesota's pronounced seasons.
We're seeing this frame--farmers' needs over those of others and "Greater Minnesota" defined as farmers vs the metro and regulators (Cargill CEO Greg Page at the Water Summit)--act as a shorthand in policy questions.
It obscures the needs of small cities for drinking water and wastewater system replacements, the Lewis and Clark water pipeline, the dam at Lanesboro, and dozens of other projects across Great Minnesota.
It's as if Minnesota outside of the metro is nothing but a monoculture of farms and nothing else. This is a lazy and divisive frame. By all means pass this bill--but let it be the exception and not the rule.
The legislature should knock it off treating the bonding bill as the item "where all the bargaining chips are held; it’s the last piece of negotiation," and instead get a bonding bill that funds projects across the state. Many of these were vetted last year--and a new construction season begins mere weeks from now.
We'd like to see construction workers, farmers, and more all prosper. Get working, representatives and senators.
Photo: The Lanesboro Dam.
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