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Minnesota leaders see 2022 as key year for infrastructure progress

Every night, up to 10 Native American children find emergency shelter at a 114-year-old home in St. Paul near Summit Avenue where the foundations are collapsing, there is asbestos in the bathrooms and the bathroom. he integrity of the chimney thrills employees.

“Seeing the work that is going on here is really powerful and quite moving,” Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan said during a recent visit to the Ain Dah Yung center, where workers have listed hundreds of thousands of dollars in needed repairs. . “The physical space should be able to match the type of tone and the right environment that is created here.”

The center is among hundreds of nonprofits, local governments, colleges and state agencies asking to be included in the construction finance program that will be a top priority next year at State Capitol. But the perpetual battle over the infrastructure bill will be different this year, with a massive influx of federal dollars along with inflation, supply chain backlogs and labor shortages complicating the results. .

Minnesota is set to secure more than $ 6.8 billion from the federal infrastructure package President Joe Biden enacted earlier this month. The cash injection will help modernize drinking water systems, improve public transportation, repair bridges and start other projects. It could also free the state to spend more money on other needs.

But the federal government is still in the process of finalizing the details of the spending, including how much money states and local governments might need to match.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation expects to get about $ 5 billion from the infrastructure program over five years. Spokeswoman Anne Meyer said the federal government typically requires a 20% match, which means the state would have to provide $ 1 billion to receive the funds.

“We look forward to working with lawmakers on this need, regardless of the amount of the game,” Meyer said. “It could be part of the capital investment bill.”

The chairmen of the state House and Senate investment committees, which shape the construction finance bill, said they expected more details within the next month.

The state appears to be in a strong financial position heading into the next legislative session, with monthly revenue reports showing more tax revenue than expected. Budget makers will give the full picture on December 7.

If the trend continues, this could provide more leeway to use cash to pay for construction projects, in addition to the traditional use of proceeds from the sale of general bonds. This form of borrowing can only be used to pay for public infrastructure.

Public entities have submitted about $ 5.5 billion in bond applications, and lawmakers and officials in Governor Tim Walz’s administration have traveled the state to review the proposals. But Minnesota’s management and budget officials said they also received $ 91 million in claims from nonprofits that did not qualify for the bond.

The Ain Dah Yung center is one of the projects that are not eligible for the proceeds of the bond. The organization has struggled to secure financial assistance for repairs and has spent nearly eight years seeking funds from foundations, said acting chief executive Sheri Riemers.

Flanagan said that Ain Dah Yung is an example of an organization that does hard work to meet the needs of children and families.

“But that’s not the kind of job, frankly, that funders are always looking for,” she said.

Minnesota’s latest construction package – a landmark $ 1.9 billion deal that heads of state passed in October 2020 – included $ 30 million in cash for projects that supported black and native communities and communities colored. Flanagan and House Democrats have said they want to increase that amount in the next bill, but the lieutenant governor was silent on the scale of the administration’s infrastructure plan.

Walz is due to reveal his bond and construction expense proposal by Jan. 17. This will be the starting point for negotiations when lawmakers return to Capitol Hill at the end of this month.

In the Senate, Capital Investment Chairman Tom Bakk, I-Cook, said he believes the size of the bill should be close to that of the 2020 measure. Find out what conditions are attached to federal money ” will take some pressure off, ”he said. Bakk hopes the additional dollars will allow the state to catch up with two growing backlogs: repairs and upgrades at colleges and universities, and statewide maintenance of the infrastructure of the Ministry of Natural Resources.

However, projects that receive funding next year may take longer to complete if the supply chain crisis delays access to certain materials or equipment, Bakk said. He is already seeing that rising inflation is affecting projects in his Iron Range district; architects had estimated that a trailhead and parking project in Ely would cost $ 1.5 million, and it cost double.

“This inflation is real. I’m looking at the price of steel… It’s good, much higher than we’ve seen historically,” Bakk said. “The whole country is suffering. Things are just going to cost a little more than they have in the past. And maybe that is the new normal.”

Lawmakers are hearing concerns about rising costs from people working on previously state-funded projects, said House Capital Investment Chairman Fue Lee, DFL-Minneapolis. They have to weigh these projects against the new demands, he said.

“We really need to make sure that we can have as big a bill as possible so that we can meet all of these different needs,” Lee said, noting that the latest economic forecast for February showed Minnesota has the capacity to commit. for $ 3.3 billion.

Sanitation systems and aging higher education infrastructure are particularly critical, said Rep. Dean Urdahl, the Republican leader of the Capital Investment Committee. He offered a more modest picture of what the bail bill might look like.

“We could go over $ 1 billion. I think my caucus leaders have been open to doing that,” Urdahl said recently as he strolled through St. Paul’s Zoo in Como with other lawmakers during a ‘a liaison tour. They listened to a zookeeper describe the need for new skylights and the addition of a male orangutan.

The fate of a bail bill is often decided in the last days or hours of a legislative session. It requires three-fifths of the members of the House and Senate to support it, which makes a deal particularly difficult.

House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said if a deal couldn’t be reached with House Republicans, lawmakers could resort to a cash-only infrastructure bill or maybe with obligations which do not require a qualified majority.

“We are not going to let the people who just want to be partisan and just to filibuster get in the way of the projects that the Minnesotans need, or hinder the maximum use of this federal bill,” he said. she declared.

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