House & Senate offer $825 million bonding proposals

by Trevor Russell

In January, Gov. Mark Dayton proposed a $1.5 billion capital investment or "bonding" bill. Dubbed the “Jobs Bill,” the package included much-needed investments in Minnesota’s water resources, including drinking water and wastewater infrastructure for communities across the state.

However, both the Minnesota House and Senate recently released draft bonding proposals that come in at $825 million — about half of what the governor requested. Dayton described the House proposal as “woefully inadequate.”

(If you're ready to take action now, please do! If not, read on.)

The House bill is modest in scope but does include $120 million in water infrastructure, which is well short of the governor’s requested $167 million. The current draft also includes $1 million for the bizarre “MESERB bill” – state funding for regulated parties to provide “oversight” of their own state regulators.[1]

The Senate proposal is identical in size but provides less money for water infrastructure while investing more in other areas.

While some of FMR's top bonding priorities are included in current House & Senate bonding proposals, other items are underfunded or left out entirely.

Here’s where things stand:

Minnesota's clean-water infrastructure

We must fix aging drinking water and wastewater systems across the state. This should be a top state priority. 

While the House and Senate bonding bills fund many critical upgrades, they fail to fund critical drinking and water treatment needs across the state. We need to ensure all Minnesotans have access to clean, affordable water, no matter where they live. 

What's in

These upgrades are essential to providing clean drinking water and reducing pollution to our state's waters and are included in the current bonding bill:

  • Wastewater Infrastructure Fund (House $55M / Senate: $35.150M)
    Supplemental assistance grants to municipalities for high-cost clean water and drinking water infrastructure projects that address existing environmental or public health problems. Wastewater Infrastructure Fund (WIF) funds are used to supplement either low-interest loans from the Clean Water Revolving Fund or to match grant and loan funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development. This funding would also support expanding this program to include drinking water projects.
  • Point Source Implementation Grants (House: $45M / Senate: $35M)
    Point Source Implementation Grants (PSIG) help local governments fund water treatment plant upgrades to meet water quality restoration and protection goals. Funding is allocated on a competitive basis and provides grants of up to 50% of eligible costs, with a local match required.
  • Water Infrastructure Initiative (House & Senate: $20M)
    $20 million in state funds to be matched by considerable federal funds through the clean water and drinking water revolving funds. State and federal funds are used together with loan repayments and PFA revenue bonds to provide low-interest loans to local governments for both clean water infrastructure, which includes wastewater and stormwater, and drinking water infrastructure projects. Eligible projects are prioritized based on environmental and public health criteria.
  • Metro municipal “inflow & infiltration” grants (House: $5M / Senate: $3M)
    Funds for improvements in municipal wastewater systems to reduce inflow and infiltration to the Metropolitan Council's Metropolitan sanitary sewer disposal system. Grants are for a 50% state cost share to defray costs of repairs in the most problematic communities.
What's missing
  • We need to fully fund water infrastructure
    Gov. Mark Dayton proposed $167 million in bonding for water infrastructure, well more than the $120 million in the House or $90.15 million in the Senate. Given the massive long-term maintenance and repair costs facing our state’s water infrastructure, now is the time to fully fund water infrastructure investments. 
    This interactive map from the governor's office shows all of the critical drinking and stormwater treatment and other water projects across the state that should be funded. 

Improving water quality

What's in
  • Partial funding for targeted conservation easements (RIM Reserve) (House & Senate: $10M)
    The Reinvest in Minnesota (RIM) program works with farmers and private landowners to restore and protect water quality through targeted conservation easements in agricultural areas. The program compensates private landowners for granting permanent conservation easements and establishing wetlands or riparian areas on their lands.
    The included funds will help Minnesotans implement the new buffer strip law passed last session. In addition, state bond funds will leverage federal funds through a multi-year initiative aimed at protecting water through a state-federal partnership.
  • Closed Landfill Cleanup and Leak Prevention (House & Senate: $6M)
    Andover Minnesota’s Waste Disposal Engineering Landfill, home to an estimated 6,600 barrels of hazardous waste, is leaking. It poses high risks to drinking water, groundwater, public health and adjacent Coon Creek. Funds will help remove the hazardous waste and contaminated soil and reconstruct the site.  
What's missing
  • We need to fully fund conservation easements
    To fully fund targeted conservation easements through Reinvest in Minnesota or RIM Minnesota needs to bond for $30 million. As noted above, RIM works with farmers and private landowners to restore and protect water quality through targeted conservation easements in agricultural areas. If underfunded through bonding, the balance may need to come from other dedicated sources of funds that are needed elsewhere.

Metro river corridor projects

The competing bonding proposals include some vital investments along the Mississippi River in the metro area, with some notable exceptions.

What's in
  • Upper Harbor Terminal Redevelopment (House: $15M / Senate: $12M)
    Site remediation to prepare the 48-acre city-owned Upper Harbor Terminal site for redevelopment to include residential, businesses and civic uses and a new destination park on the Mississippi River.
  • Wakan Tipi Center (House: $3M / Senate: $3M)
    The Wakan Tipi Center is a visitor and interpretive center at Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary that will honor and interpret the Dakota sacred site, Wakan Tipi Cave, and the rich cultural history of this area.
  • Historic Fort Snelling Visitor Center (House: $30M / Senate: $10M)
    Resources for the Minnesota Historical Society for design and construction of a much-needed revitalization and renovation of Historic Fort Snelling in time for its bicentennial in 2020.
  • Metro Area Parks (House: $10M / Senate: $10M)
    Investments in the regional park system that encompasses 54 parks and reserves, 55,000 acres of land and almost 400 miles of hiking and biking trails, serving 47 million visitors annually from the seven-county metropolitan area and beyond. Of the original $15 million governor’s request, $5 million is for Minneapolis riverfront park projects.
What's missing
  • The Environmental Learning Center
    For the proposed environmental learning center at the current Watergate Marina site in St. Paul, $3 million is needed. This request would fund community engagement, design development, environmental review and permitting at the site.
    In addition to the City of St. Paul, supporting organizations include Mississippi Park Connection, Wilderness Inquiry and Capitol Region Watershed District.
  • The Falls Visitor Center
    The bill should include $1.5 million for predesign of “The Falls"— a destination visitor and interpretive center proposed for the recently closed Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock in downtown Minneapolis to draw people to discover our local national park on the Mississippi River.
  • Great Northern Greenway River Link/26th Avenue North Overlook & Pier
    $3 million is needed for Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board to extend the river biking and walking trails and construct a fishing pier and overlook at the river’s edge to provide access to the Mississippi River for North Minneapolis residents and regional trail users.
  • Full funding for Metro Parks
    The full $15 million is necessary for the Met Council for metropolitan area parks, creating exciting new investments in our shared riverfront.

... And this bizarre provision needs to go

  • Drop “MESERB”
    The bizarre “MESERB” provision has no business in a capital investment bill. Diverting funds from infrastructure projects to pay regulated parties to provide “oversight” over their own regulators misspends limited resources and attempts to slip a bad idea that couldn’t pass on its own into an unrelated spending bill without justification.

Next steps

The House and Senate bonding bills must pass through the full body in each committee. If passed in both chambers (which require a 60% vote of support for bonding proposals), the respective House and Senate bills will be reconciled in conference committee before final passage by each body and potential signature from Gov. Mark Dayton.

You can help

Please contact your legislators and Gov. Mark Dayton and request improvements to the House and Senate bonding proposals.

Sign up to become a River Guardian, and we'll email you when an important river issue arises (like this bonding bill) and make it quick and easy to contact decision makers! River Guardians are also invited to special events, including happy hours, about important legislative and metro river corridor issues.

 

More legislative updates


[1] While the original bill asked for $2 million strictly for MESERB, the bonding bill language has been amended to include $1 million for MESERB or other qualified recipients. However, all involved fully recognize that MESERB is the intended recipient of the funding.

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