ST PAUL -- Minnesota Democratic Gov. Tim Walz has finally released his highly anticipated bonding proposal total: $2.03 billion.
Walz held the final of his four bonding package news conferences Wednesday, Jan. 15, in the state Department of Public Safety's Homeland Security and Emergency Management office in St. Paul, where he unveiled his $857 million public safety bonding proposal. Wednesday's proposal includes funding for state emergency planning, local police and fire departments, military facilities, roads and bridges infrastructure and safety improvements to correctional facilities and state buildings.
Walz said at Wednesday's news conference that protecting Minnesotans' safety is his "top priority" as governor, and the state has "the best" emergency management team and first responders.
"Our personnel in Minnesota are the most professional and the best at responding to emergencies of any place in the country," Walz said. "The facilities that they use, not so much."
He continued, "With a little help from the state, we get better prepared to respond to public safety threats and prevent them in the first place."
Walz also proposed Wednesday that $675 million be financed in the 2020 bonding package to improve Minnesotans' quality of life, going toward local community projects such as town hall and public library renovations, recreational trail development and public transit projects.
All of Walz's proposed bonding components -- affordable housing, water infrastructure, higher education, equity, public safety and quality of life -- add up to $2.028 billion in general obligation bonds, plus $571 million in additional financing (including general fund cash), equaling a nearly $2.6 billion plan.
Republicans have said for months that they want to keep 2020's bonding total near $1 billion. But Walz challenged them at Wednesday's news conference to find a project in his proposal unworthy of funding.
"I have heard no criticism about investing in housing," he said. "I have heard no criticism about investing in water infrastructure. I have heard no criticism about investing in education. And I'm betting I won't hear any criticism today about investing in public safety."
Local governments and state agencies in total requested $5.3 billion state funding for local projects, not all of which will get funded in 2020's package. If the state only passes a $1 billion bonding package, Walz said communities will only see a fifth of the funding that they requested.
Myron Frans, commissioner of Minnesota's Management and Budget, said during December's revenue forecast that Minnesota can afford a "robust" bonding package, thanks to low interest rates. He reiterated that point at Wednesday's news conference, saying, "Why borrow now? Well, we can afford it."
With Minnesota's current interest rates, Walz said the Legislature should take advantage of the market and complete these projects while the cost of borrowing is low.
"If somebody told me, 'Don't fix your roof today. That leak is not that bad. It'll be cheaper next year,' boy, I wouldn't take that advice," Walz said.