ST. PAUL – As the Legislature nears its May 19 deadline, the focus has shifted to a state bonding bill.
State Rep. David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake, said the House is still working on its version of the bonding bill, but said the final shape of the bonding bill will be determined after leadership in the Senate and House negotiate with Gov. Mark Dayton.
“It has to be large enough to satisfy some of the members but small enough to accommodate others, and it will have to be geographically diverse,” he said.
One of the major sticking points has been a proposal to allocate millions of dollars in bonds for the Highway 53 relocation project.
Dill, along with DFL Reps. Jason Metsa of Virginia and Tom Anzelc of Balsam Township, have been spearheading the effort to obtain funds for the project.
Dill said relocating the highway would require moving utility and telephone lines. In addition, he said the Mesabi Trail and snowmobile trails would be affected by the Highway 53 relocation.
“That work doesn’t qualify for other federal and state funds,” he said. “Bonding is the best option.”
Two of the bills introduced call for $11 million for utilities relocation and $1.2 million for reconfiguring the Mesabi Trail in the area. Other bills request $20 million in trunk highway funds for any gaps in the costly relocation project.
The total cost for the Highway 53 relocation is unclear with estimates ranging from $60 million to $135 million. Only $90 million has been allocated for the project so far, according to Roberta Dwyer, Minnesota Department of Transportation Highway 53 manager.
Meanwhile, Dill said he hopes to see a host of other projects across the Iron Range included in the bonding bill, including $8.75 million for the Voyageurs Clean Waters program, which is aimed to helping communities develop sewage solutions in gateway communities to the park.
Gov. Dayton didn’t include any specific funding for development of the Lake Vermilion State Park in his bonding proposal and that could also be part of the negotiations over the final bonding bill.
One project unlikely to be included in the bond proposal is the Ely Airport, which is seeking funds to reconstruct its runways and install new lighting. Dill noted that the airport qualifies for 90- to 95-percent funding for the project, but requires a local match of five to 10-percent.
“Local means local,” he said. “I don’t think we can justify statewide bonding for the project. Ely has to have some skin in the game. I’m not criticizing the city for applying for funds for the project. As a former city administrator, I know what it’s like to try to keep taxes down locally and seek any help you can get. But there has to be more regional value for a project to qualify for state bonding.”
Meanwhile, lawmakers will need to whittle down nearly $4 billion in bonding requests to reach an appropriate target.
Sen. Tom Saxhaug, DFL-Grand Rapids, expects higher education projects to get priority in the bill. Included in the package for higher education are a $13.7 million proposal for construction and improvements at Bemidji State University and $3.3 million for renovations on the Vermilion, Hibbing and Itasca community college campuses.
Dayton’s bonding proposal was just shy of $1 billion, but some Republicans have balked at the size of that bill.
Complicating matters is the requirement that a bonding bill must be approved by a supermajority.
In the House, that means that all Democrats and eight Republicans must approve the bill. In the Senate, DFLers will need to sway at least two Republicans to vote with their caucus.