Guest commentary: What will it take to finally pass a bonding bill?

Published 6:30 am Saturday, October 10, 2020

By Greg Zylka

President, Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities

Dear members of the Minnesota Legislature,

Greg Zylka

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Another special legislative session is on the horizon, and with it comes renewed talk of passing a large-scale capital investment package, commonly referred to as the “bonding bill.” Many of you keep repeating that bonding is a top priority, but here we are, about to start the fifth special legislative session of the year, with no bonding bill in sight.

I have grown weary of getting my hopes up, so let me ask you point-blank: What will it take to pass a bonding bill this special session?   

If you truly want to pass a bonding bill, you have the power to make it happen. You have already had several opportunities this year, but I’m willing to set those past failures aside. When Gov. Walz calls you back into session this month — in what will likely be your last chance to pass legislation before Election Day — I urge you to finally pass a bonding bill.

As our communities continue to grapple with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the bonding bill is the foundation for economic recovery and prosperity going forward. By investing in critical infrastructure, the bonding bill will put thousands of Minnesotans to work and allow numerous important construction projects to proceed.

Some of you are reluctant to vote for a bonding bill because it will add to the state deficit. While it is true that taking on additional debt will cost money, the real question is whether the state can afford not to do a bonding bill this year:

• Can we afford to sideline our construction workers, project managers and other tradespeople indefinitely?

• Can we afford the ramifications of not providing clean water to our residents?

• Can we afford to continue to turn a blind eye to Minnesota’s decaying roads and bridges?

• Can we afford to let vital economic development programs, which boost local businesses and put more Minnesotans to work, disappear?

Everything comes with a cost, and the hard truth is that the state’s budget concerns are not going to disappear overnight. As state leaders, you cannot simply ignore ongoing infrastructure and employment needs and expect the state deficit to magically go away. These are exactly the sorts of investments that are needed to inject life back into our economy so that we can chip away at the deficit and get back on the path to prosperity.

There is a sense of urgency in passing the bonding bill now. First and foremost, the projects in need of these funds are not going to go away — and they will only become more expensive as time goes on.

We also know that the Legislature will have a lot on its plate in 2021, with the need to craft a new two-year state budget, continued threat of COVID-19 and other looming concerns. If you do not pass a bonding bill now, it will be all too easy to be consumed by other issues. It could very well be 2022 before the Legislature focuses on bonding again. Our communities cannot wait that long.

Further, there are political considerations with the possibility of changing legislative majorities and priorities. The political climate does not appear to be getting any more collaborative; this may be the best chance the Democrats and Republicans will have to put together a bill that satisfies both sides.

Let’s face it — 2020 has been rough, and more tough decisions await in the year ahead. As you gear up for the October special session, you have an opportunity to help set Minnesota back on course. It’s time to pass a bonding bill.