Our Opinion: No more games, finish passing bonding bill

Published 5:39 pm Tuesday, March 7, 2023

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A number of years ago, when the Minnesota Legislature passed legislation requiring cities to upgrade their wastewater treatment plants for cleaner water, one thing became clear — Austin would have to revamp/replace its aging plant.

Many cities, including Austin argued that such quick turn put unnecessary financial pressures on communities to fast-track these efforts.

Now, it seems, politics could possibly result in settling more weight on the shoulders of taxpayers, an unfair position to put communities in.

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On Monday night, the Minnesota House passed a $1.9 billion bonding package — $1.5 billion in borrowed money and $393 million in cash — that is going to be put toward infrastructure like wastewater plants.

Austin is now slated for $14.5 million, largely because this year’s package is built on the framework of last year’s failed bonding package that denied Austin that same amount and forced the city’s hand to make up for $8 million in lost revenue related to the plant’s construction.

Over the next four years, Austin will experience rate hikes in sewer fees, with this year being the most at 15%, followed by 10% next year and 7% the following two years.

Luckily, the House received bipartisan support to pass this year’s bill, including Rep. Patrica Mueller (R-23B), however, the Senate doesn’t look as primed to pass the bill, with some Republicans signaling that bill could be stalled if tax relief, using the nearly $18 billion state surplus, isn’t included.

Meanwhile, Democrats have in turn signaled that if it is held up, then more projects could be added and paid for just out of the surplus.

For context, the last bonding bill that was passed was 2020. Because of political wrangling the last two years, there has been no bonding bill. Meanwhile, projects like Austin’s wastewater treatment plant aren’t getting any cheaper. What was once seen as a $78 million estimated project toward the beginning is now sitting at $105 million.

Simply put, communities can’t afford to wait as politics continues to play the same tired game.

At the end of the day, there is greater potential for those increased dollar amounts to continue to fall on taxpayers.

Infrastructure will not fix itself and as politicians continue to argue for fixing our aging infrastructure, it makes sense that they do as much as possible to insure that money gets in the hands of the communities that need that money, rather than to continue to burden them with uncertainty and financial stresses.