As the Minnesota Legislature’s 88th session enters the final weeks of this biennium, it may be appropriate to reflect upon the legislature’s unfinished business into the home stretch.
So far this session, the majority party in control of all three branches of our state government has been able to set the agenda, determine which bills will be heard in committee, which will be read and debated on the House floor, which will be considered for inclusion into omnibus legislation, and possesses the necessary votes to ensure passage of nearly any legislation they may choose regardless of minority dissent or citizen disapproval.
With some exceptions, it would be fair to say that most legislation passed prior to Spring break has been focused upon supplementary finance appropriation bills. During the remaining weeks the primary emphasis will be on policy legislation and a bonding bill.
Unlike other legislation, bonding bills require two-thirds approval or 81 votes to pass in the House. Democrats must have Republican support to pass any bonding legislation and therefore will require inclusion of projects that both parties will support.
In order for any bonding bill to become law, the House and Senate bills must be the same, both the Senate and House must vote to concur on final language and the Governor must sign the legislation. The political challenge of bonding will be establishing spending priorities which will tend to parse local wants from regional needs.
The State’s bonding capacity (credit limit) is approximately $8 billion dollars. Our bonding credit card balance is about $6 billion dollars. At present, more than 3 billion dollars of bonding requests have been received for projects from cities, towns, townships, non-profits and other organizations from all around the state.
Everyone’s project is important to its potential recipient. Many projects demonstrate regional significance while others local importance without regional nexus.
Governor Dayton has recommended more than $1 billion dollars of additional bonding which would increase our credit card balance to $7 billion dollars of debt if passed. General fund expenditures of $1.25 billion dollars per biennium are allocated for existing interest and debt service.
Considering these facts, it is important to note that our budgeted debt service of $1.25 billion dollars has now reached a level which meets or exceeds the Governor’s current recommended bonding amount for this biennium. If we did not have $1.25 billion dollars of public debt service obligation, we could pay cash for these same proposed expenditures. Recently, Minnesota’s bond ratings were downgraded for a variety of reasons, including the amount of debt that we carry.
As our regional economy improves and state revenues increase resulting from increased economic activity, we must reverse unsustainable spending trends and continuation of increased public debt.
We only need to examine our existing federal debt to understand the moral dilemma we face by saddling our children and future unborn generations with debt that they had no decision in.