Our View: Bonding bill should include Lanesboro dam
After declaring education and transportation as his top two priorities of 2015, Gov. Mark Dayton challenged the Minnesota Legislature to pass his $842 million bonding bill.
"It would be, as the old saying goes, penny wise and pound foolish not to increase our investments in a better Minnesota by passing a bonding bill this year," he said Thursday night during his fifth State of the State address before a joint session of the Legislature.
With interest rates still low, the governor made a strong case for another large borrowing package to finance construction projects throughout the state. Dayton, who's earned a go-big-or-go-home reputation for bonding projects, specifically mentioned the Lewis and Clark Water System in the Worthington area, rerouting rail cars carrying volatile fuel from the Willmar area, and upgrading public safety improvements to the state prison in St. Cloud as his bonding priorities.
One project not mentioned during his 32-minute address specifically caught our attention. Dayton's bonding proposal, which was announced Tuesday, includes $950,000 to repair Lanesboro's 147-year-old dam.
Funding for the Lanesboro landmark, one of the few masonry arch dams left in the United States, was inexplicably left off last year's bonding bill, a mistake that must be corrected. The Department of Natural Resources classified it as a "high-hazard structure," meaning lives would be lost if the dam failed. Instead of requiring Lanesboro to match the $950,000 in bonding money, the DNR would provide another $950,000, bringing total state funding to $1.9 million, covering most of the $2.7 million price tag to repair the dam.
While even-numbered years are the traditional bonding sessions, Dayton reminded the Legislature it has passed a bonding bill in nearly every session during the last 32 years. The governor has warned that if no bonding bill passes this session, he expects to receive funding requests that will top $3 billion in 2016, when interest rates likely will be higher.
House Republican leaders have expressed little interest in a bonding bill this year, a position we hope is political posturing before the real negotiations take place. However, Rep. Greg Davids, a Republican from Preston whose district includes Lanesboro, is a practical man who said earlier this week he would be open to a smaller bonding bill focused on urgent needs and emergency items. We'll hold to him to his word and expect him to use every bit of 25 years of legislative experience to make sure the Lanesboro dam is included.
After the State of the State address, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, a DFLer from Cook, described the governor's proposals as "scaleable," which we interpret to mean Dayton will get some of the projects on his wish list with a total package closer to the smaller bonding bill Davids and other Republicans can support.
There are other regional proposals on the governor's bonding bill that we hope make the final cut, including $4.5 million for Red Wing's River Town Renaissance project, $1.9 million for repairs and upgrades at Rochester Community and Technical College and $1.6 million for renovation at Rochester's National Guard Armory.
"Waiting now, for another year, is inexplicable and unacceptable," Dayton said.
The governor is right. Interest rates remain low, making it an ideal time to borrow money to finance needed bonding projects.
And the Lanesboro dam, which can't wait another year, should be at the top of the list.