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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Walz’s bonding plan

Hopefully the final bill will offer more for North Country projects

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The Walz administration issued an eye-popping bonding proposal last week, just ahead of the start of the 2022 legislative session. At a proposed $2.7 billion dollars, it would dwarf any previous bonding measure, yet communities here in northeastern Minnesota were mostly left wanting as the governor nixed a slew of requests from this region, including funding for the Tower-Breitung Wastewater Board to upgrade the communities’ drinking water infrastructure, a number of regional ATV trails projects, a Crane Lake public access point to serve Voyageurs National Park, and a second proposal from the city of Ely for west end redevelopment.
These are projects with both merit and regional significance and the governor’s failure to include them is a disappointment. At the same time, the governor approved $1.5 million to build a water slide and lazy river at a new water park in Pelican Rapids. When playing in the water ranks higher than having drinking water that complies with health standards, it makes one wonder about the criteria the governor used in making his decisions.
In fairness, the governor did propose $49 million to upgrade drinking water quality statewide. That’s the largest proposed investment water infrastructure in years and it may well be that the governor opted against funding individual water projects, preferring that state agencies set the priorities for those projects going forward. If so, the Tower-Soudan project should rank highly in the process.
The governor may also have been setting the stage for the inevitable negotiations over the bonding bill. He’s well aware that Sen. Tom Bakk, currently chairs the Senate Capital Investment Committee and is likely to wield considerable influence over the final priorities in the bill. By leaving out a number of valid projects in Bakk’s district, it gives the governor the ability to use those projects as bargaining chips to obtain Bakk’s support for the final measure.
The governor’s bonding proposal is always the opening offer and there is always much political calculation involved. The final version, assuming the Legislature can even agree on a final bill, is frequently much different, so there’s reason to expect that any ultimate agreement for state bonding will look considerably different from the governor’s proposal.
While the Republican-controlled Senate is likely to push back hard on the governor’s top-line number, Walz may actually have an ally in Bakk. Bakk, who now calls himself an independent and caucuses with the Republicans, has never been reluctant about public investment or the trade union jobs that come with it. That means the GOP caucus is likely to have at least one influential member pushing to bring the Senate’s final offer a bit closer to the governor’s. But, for that to happen, the governor will likely need to sweeten the deal for the Cook lawmaker. Stay tuned, because this really is a developing story.
And finally, while most local government projects in our region fared poorly in the governor’s initial bill, it did include significant local investment in state-owned facilities. The proposal would provide $12 million for further development of the Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park, much of which would be directed toward work on the park’s main lodge and visitor’s center, as well as design of a second campground.
Vermilion Community College is also slated to receive $3 million under the governor’s plan, while Giants Ridge would see a $10.2 million investment for upgrades to its snow-making ability.
So, the news wasn’t all bad. At the same time, we’ll be watching in hopes that the final version is considerably better for the North Country.

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