The dirt on the 2012 Minnesota legislative session


Sex, stadiums, and stalling have been big stories in this Republican-controlled legislative session, now stumbling toward adjournment. Where to begin? Maybe with the actual dirt, as in the new state soil. Yep — in addition to a state bird, state flower, state cookie, state muffin and state mushroom and more, the House has voted to name an official state soil. We don’t have a bonding bill or a state jobs bill or ethics committee action on the Koch/Brodkorb affair, but we have a state soil. The legislature is on the job.

Representative Steve Drazkowski (R-Mazeppa) opined this week that we don’t need a bonding bill because there was one last year. Well, yes. There was a legislative session last year, too — maybe we didn’t need this one? 

The bonding bill is the kind of legislation that makes a lot of people’s eyes glaze over, but it’s important. In the simplest terms, bonding means that the state borrows money to build things and pays it back over time. Bonding bills pay for capital projects. Capital projects are highways, not highway patrol salaries; libraries, not librarians; and repairing our crumbling State Capitol — not paying legislators’ per diem allowances. Bonding projects create jobs, especially construction jobs.

Representative Larry Howes (R-Walker) suggested there might not be a need for a bonding bill now because all the money approved in previous years has not yet been spent. Some bonding projects take time to get off the ground.  For example, engineering studies and architectural plans are needed before breaking ground for a new science classroom building or beginning renovation of a civic center. Other projects take less time: bridge and highway repairs come to mind. In Rochester, two frustrated county commissioners point out that infrastructure repairs and jobs go hand in hand:

So why are we continuing to see a huge lack of investment and more deterioration of our highways, local roads and local bridges? Fixing the very transportation system that our economy needs to get back on track, moving products to market and people to work, should be a top priority. …

Lawmakers in St. Paul have been talking about the need to focus on “jobs, jobs, jobs.” They can put those words into action by passing a significant capital bonding bill that includes investments in local roads, local bridges and other critical transportation infrastructure. 

Back in March, MinnPost analyzed the differences between DFL and Republican approaches to bonding. On the DFL side, priorities include “more funding for MnSCU campuses in the Twin Cities…, more money for public transit and roads and for projects that would qualify for federal matching funds.” Governor Dayton’s priorities: job creation and priming the pump of economic activity.

On the GOP side, the House proposed funding State Capitol repairs and restoration, the Senate wants less money for the State Capitol, and, in general, Republicans say the emphasis should not be on bonding and building, but rather “should be on easing regulations and cutting taxes on businesses, which would create high-paying permanent positions.”

Since the Republicans in the legislature can’t agree with the governor, or even with each other, about bonding and jobs, I have a suggestion. Naming a state soil was an easy, feel-good exercise. Now they could wrap up the session with another easy, feel-good bill: naming a state mammal.