Seal Habitats and Greenhouses Inflate Largest Ever Bonding Bill

The proposed bonding hits a level three times greater than the bonding bill proposed four years ago.

State legislators are scrambling to craft a budget for the next two years, while simultaneously trying to make up for last year’s failure to finish a bonding bill.

Generally the legislature passes bonding bills in even numbered years. With 2016 being the first year since at least 1977 without some sort of bonding, last year’s failure sees added pressure on the legislature this year to get something done.

In total S.F. 210, introduced by Sens. David Senjem (R – Rochester), Sandra Pappas (DFL – St. Paul), Bill Ingebrigtsen (R – Alexandria), Gary Dahms (R – Redwood Falls), and Kent Eken (DFL – Twin Valley), totals $1.65 billion in bonding. This is the largest bonding bill ever proposed in Minnesota.

Transportation receives the most money in total. Between two separate articles in the bill, the state would award $789 million to various transportation projects across Minnesota.

This includes money for projects such as:

  • $1.1 million for repairs and capital improvements on 6.5 miles of Minnesota Commercial Railways’ between White Bear Lake and Hugo.
  • $750,000 for a pedestrian bridge in Grand Rapids

The bill includes $40.35 million in funding for Metropolitan Council projects including:

  • $12 million for Phase I renovation of seal and sea lion habitats at the Como Zoo
  • $12.1 million for construction of the Orange Line light rail between Burnsville and Minneapolis
  • $8.75 million for improvements to the Mall of America light rail station

The employment and economic development section of the bill includes money for such projects as:

  • $5 million for a Norway House in Minneapolis to celebrate Norwegian heritage
  • $13 million for repairs to the St. Paul Science Museum
  • $6 million to Minnesota Museum of American Art for new galleries and an art study facility
  • $5 million for renovations for the Hennepin Center for the Arts
  • $8 million for construction of an Arrowhead Regional Health and Wellness Center

The University of Minnesota would receive $81.57 million under the proposal. $50 million of this is for the non-specific Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement (HEAPR) program, which is designed to extend the useful life of the university’s existing facilities. Another $27.17 million is for the construction of a new chemical and material sciences building, while the remaining $4.4 million is to demolish and replace the existing biological sciences greenhouse. Any money not spent out of these projects is to be converted to additional HEAPR funds, rather than be returned to the state.

A further $107.5 million goes to the state colleges and universities in Minnesota. $35 million of this is in HEAPR funds, while the rest covers various projects. Any money not spent from those projects is once again converted to HEAPR funds, and not returned to the state or its creditors.

Bonding is a process by which the state actually borrows money it does not have by selling bonds. As in most lending practices, the state’s creditors will expect interest, so that $1.6 billion bonding bill is just the starting price.

For a bit of context on the bill’s size, in 2012 Gov. Mark Dayton proposed $775 million in bonding. The Republican-controlled House at the time proposed only $280 million, while the Senate, then led by Senjem, proposed $561 million. The bill Senjem and his co-authors are backing this year is nearly three times the 2012 level.

Anders Koskinen