As a new lawmaker, I’ve been surprised at just how political the capital investment proposal seems to be. Also known as the bonding bill, this is the proposal that funds construction projects in all corners of Minnesota.
In theory the bonding bill borrows money for construction, funding projects of statewide importance that are necessities, rather than niceties. Renovating existing buildings on college campuses meet this criterion. Road and bridge improvements also make the grade.
But typically these proposals go above and beyond the state infrastructure and often include local funding projects. The majority party usually does this in an attempt to assist what could be a politically vulnerable member. The thought being, if that member can bring home a bonding project or two, he or she will really show their legislative value to their constituents. In essence, they want to show they’re bringing home the bacon, or as I like to call it: pork.
This bonding technique isn’t party specific. The DFL did it this year and the Republicans have done it in the past. Regardless of who is doing the cherry-picking, it’s wrong.
This year’s bonding bill - prior to it being delivered to the governor - contained dozens of provisions that in my opinion were included more for potential local votes this November rather than their statewide significance: A bike trail in Afton; a performing arts center in Mankato; a brass band music lending library in Chatfield; and various proposals for light rail and transit lines in the suburbs.
The other thing that bothers me about the bonding bill is that the party in charge loads up the proposal with projects from their own party. At one point during this year’s negotiation process, House Republicans had projects totaling nearly $39 million in a $925 million bonding bill if you removed higher education requests. Again, I’m sure you’d see similar results back when Republicans ran the House. It’s a flawed, partisan process.
So with all of this partisanship in mind, our Republican governor told the DFL-led legislature last month that the bonding proposal should not exceed the 3% budget guideline ($825 million) because it could damage Minnesota’s bond rating. The governor warned that if the price tag was too high, he wouldn’t stand for it. The DFL-led legislature refused to listen, and sent the Republican governor a $925 million bill and basically said, “Here, you deal with it.”
On April 7, Governor Pawlenty did exactly that. Instead of vetoing the bill outright, he chopped it down to $717 million with 52 line-item vetoes, and in doing so removed many “local” projects that did not meet his statewide mandate. One of these happened to be the Central Corridor project, which would have dedicated tens of millions to help build a light rail line between Minneapolis and St. Paul.
The next day, the Democrats expressed outrage towards the Republican, saying he unfairly targeted Democrat projects with his veto pen. Others said it was a personal attack on the DFL author of the bonding bill, Representative Alice Hausman, who happens to be from St. Paul. One media outlet even speculated that Hausman’s gender may have played a role in the Governor’s veto.
And just think, if the two sides had just agreed to an $825 million bill, we could have avoided the most recent round of political mudslinging.
Let me be clear, there are many good projects in this year’s bonding bill that deserve state support. I am hopeful that in future years we can establish a practice where only statewide-significant projects make the final bonding cut. I won’t hold my breath as, unfortunately, party politics often win out over common sense.