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Providing contingent appropriations

Published (3/9/2012)
By Mike Cook
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Last year’s state government shutdown nearly forced a scheduled one-year, $18 million road reconstruction project in Forest Lake to extend into a second year.

“On that project we had a freeway interchange removed, and we were only partially done building a new one when everything stopped,” said Washington County Engineer Wayne Sandberg. “Had the shutdown gone even one more week, we would have jeopardized our completion date, and it would have become a two-year bridge closure. As it was, we still spent nearly $200,000 in additional construction costs and county staff time managing the additional project complexities during the shutdown.”

Sponsored by Rep. Ron Shimanski (R-Silver Lake), HF2631 would provide contingent state-aid related statutory appropriations if another shutdown were to occur.

Approved March 5 by the House Transportation Policy and Finance Committee, the bill awaits action by the House Ways and Means Committee. The companion, SF2172, sponsored by Sen. John Sterling Howe (R-Red Wing), awaits action by the Senate Transportation Committee.

“Because of constitutional requirements that local highway systems shall be maintained, there’s an obligation for cities and counties to continue their operation during a government shutdown,” Shimanski said. “There are certain roles that MnDOT trunk highway and state-aid staff performs in order for the project to continue operation, such as material certification, plan review and testing.”

Sandberg noted that the money comes from user taxes that are constitutionally dedicated, not the state’s General Fund.

“Keeping these monies flowing from the highway user tax distribution fund back to locals so they can carry out their mission is the goal,” Sandberg said. He added that keeping local resources available may also be necessary to ensure a local match is on hand to receive federal funds for a project.

Rep. Mike Nelson (DFL-Brooklyn Park) commented that this is another of the “plethora” of continuing appropriations bill he’s heard this session. “It’s almost like we’re planning for Shutdown 2.0,” he said. “This takes the pressure off us having to do our job.”

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