Construction workers welcome large state bonding bill


Minnesota construction workers – among the hardest hit nationally by the great recession – are encouraged by lawmakers’ plans to adopt a major infrastructure bonding bill. The state Senate is set to act Monday on a $1 billion bill, with the House slated to follow a week later, putting a bill on the governor’s desk before the end of February, DFL leaders said. Much of the money would go to construction for higher education, wastewater treatment and transportation and transit. 

Harry Melander, president of the Minnesota Building & Construction Trades Council, lauded the proposals but worries that Governor Tim Pawlenty may veto portions of the bill – or the entire plan.

“Anything less than $1 billion is not acceptable to us,” Melander said. “It will at least attempt to start to get us back on track.”

The Minnesota construction industry has suffered some of the highest losses in the country, according to an analysis by the Associated General Contractors of America.

Many Building Trades members are unemployed – or working greatly reduced hours, Melander said. The Building Trades Council represents a variety of workers, from carpenters and plumbers to electricians, laborers, millwrights, operating engineers, truck drivers and many others.

“If you look at the work hours overall, the work hours by craft are down anywhere form 30 to 70 percent,” Melander said.

Create jobs, help communities

Legislative leaders are acutely aware of the need, House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher said at a news conference announcing the bonding proposal.

“We believe it is very important to do all that we can at the state level to get people back to work,” she said, predicting the bonding bill – and the economic stimulus it will create in communities – will “put thousands of Minnesotans back to work.”

By issuing long-term bonds, the state borrows money to complete large projects that benefit Minnesota over many years and can’t be financed through annual budgets. Senator Keith Langseth, chief author of the bill in the Senate, said the current economic crisis is the perfect time to invest through bonding.

“The bids are coming in for building at 15 to 20 percent below normal,” he said. “There’s a sale going on out there and this is the time to bond and build.”

Rep. Alice Hausman, chief author of the House bill, also noted the historically low interest rates. “We can get more for our money if we do it now,” she said.

The legislative proposals also meet the governor’s fiscal guidelines, Hausman said.

If passed, construction could begin immediately in many areas of the state, lawmakers said.