Gov. Walz seeks $1.3 billion in debt for new projects

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Gov. Tim Walz is proposing to borrow $1.3 billion for new projects across the state, warning lawmakers of safety and economic consequences if they don’t act.

Walz’s proposal includes major investments in affordable housing, infrastructure, college campuses and prisons. The plan will require a deal between Republicans and Democrats, and GOP members say the total amount is too much.

Walz released his borrowing plan Tuesday while visiting an apartment building for formerly homeless veterans at Fort Snelling.

“Not doing these things is going to have consequences,” Walz told reporters. “I would not have put them in here if I didn’t think they wouldn’t improve Minnesotans’ lives.”

The governor’s borrowing proposal is separate from his nearly $50 billion budget unveiled last week. It too is controversial, especially for its inclusion of a 20-cent per gallon increase in Minnesota’s gas tax.

Among the ways Walz has suggested using the $1.3 billion in borrowed money:

•    $150 million for building new affordable housing units and renovating existing ones
•    $300 million for college campuses, divided between Minnesota State University and the University of Minnesota system
•    $20 million for prison security and maintenance improvements
•    $20 million to build the D Line, a bus rapid transit line between the Mall of America and Brooklyn Center, through downtown Minneapolis
•    Expansion of passenger rail to Duluth, and a second daily trip to Chicago

Walz said state prisons have $600 million in deferred maintenance. He said he counted 27 broken windows on a single building during a visit to the prison at Stillwater, and said some lockups require corrections officers to manually open cell blocks using a lever.

“This is 2019. This is not Shawshank. This is not some movie,” Walz said. “This is real life, where people deserve to be safe in their workplace, they deserve to be safe if they’re incarcerated and serving their debt to society.”

Republicans have concerns about the $1.3 billion total request. Last week, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said, “That’s not going to happen.”

It’s not unusual for lawmakers to approve bonding bills in odd-numbered years along with the state budget, but the size of Walz’s increase is relatively high. The governor said now’s the time to take advantage of relatively low interest rates and fix problems that won’t solve themselves.

Any borrowing bill will require 60 percent of lawmakers in both houses to agree. State Rep. Dean Urdahl, the ranking Republican on the House Capital Investment Committee, said Walz’s request is “fairly far beyond the range” of what lawmakers would agree to.

“We will negotiate. We will work with the governor and the majority and we will try to come up with a bill that we can pass in the House of Representatives,” said Urdahl, R-Grove City.