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Apr
2015
15

Nationwide, Infrastructure is Reclaiming its Rightful Place On the Bipartisan Pedestral

Under MN Gov. Dayton's plan, the Lewis & Clark Regional Water System would receive a big boost.

Under MN Gov. Dayton’s plan, the Lewis & Clark Regional Water System would receive a big boost.


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As legislative sessions come to a close, states across the country are seeing various proposals to fund major construction projects in hopes of rebuilding infrastructure and creating construction jobs.  While the projects and financial circumstances in each state differs, infrastructure is again reclaiming its place as a reliably bipartisan issue.  Below we take a look at the state of infrastructure affairs in Minnesota, Washington, and Georgia.

MINNESOTA

Citing low interest rates and a healthy budget surplus, Minnesota Gov. Mary Dayton is calling for the legislature to approve bonds for an $842 million construction plan.  Speaking to the AP last week, Dayton argued:

“What better time could we possibly have to make these investments in our future?  This is an opportunity that may not come around again.”

While the move would buck the trend of odd number years being budget years and even number years being for bonding, Dayton argues that given the state’s $2 billion surplus the time is now for a major construction plan.  His supporters suggest that waiting another year will only add to costs.  Opponents insist that while they could support the bill they are unprepared to vote on it right now.  As  Rep. Paul Torkelson, Republican chair of the House Capital Investment Committee, told The Saint Paul Pioneer Press:

“What we haven’t had a chance to do is really properly evaluate those projects, and that’s what we’ve typically done in the interim in the past and anticipate doing again this coming interim.”

Gov. Dayton broke down his construction plan, saying that 43 percent of the projects he selected would benefit greater Minnesota, 38 percent are targeted in the metro area, and 19 percent would have statewide impact.  Nearly a quarter of the $842 million would go to higher education, with $100 million each for the University of Minnesota and the MnSCU system to use for facilities and maintenance.  20 percent of the bill would be aimed at economic development, including $50 million for housing needs across the state.  15 percent would go to parks and historic sites including $20 million for repairs at the state Capitol and $34 million for a new visitors center at Fort Snelling .  

Other proposed projects that would be supported by the $842 million plan include:

— $48 million for the Lewis and Clark regional water system near Worthington.
— $16 million for Heart of the Zoo II at the Minnesota Zoo.
— $4.2 million for fields at the National Sports Center in Blaine.
— $14.5 million for Como Zoo in St. Paul.
— $12 million for the Dorothy Day Connection Center project in St. Paul.
— $7.1 million for the Kellogg-Third Street bridge in St. Paul.

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman supported Dayton’s plan in a statement:

“Rebuilding the Kellogg Avenue/3rd Street Bridge is crucial to the continued economic success of Lowertown and the East Side . Today’s proposal … would ensure we can complete the first phase of the project,” Coleman said. “The investments at Como Zoo will help to ensure the seals and sea lion exhibit can remain a key source of engagement and education for the many young children and families who visit the zoo each year.”

The ambitious budget faces a long journey through the legislative process as bonding issues need three-fifths approval in the state of Minnesota.

WASHINGTON

In Washington, an even larger construction budget is being pushed by a bipartisan group of senators.  The proposed budget would see the state spend $3.9 billion over the next two years:

The proposal is more than $100 million larger than the capital budget bill passed by the House last week. Both plans call for spending tens of millions of dollars on new mental-health facilities and hundreds of millions of dollars on education-related projects, as well as a range of other infrastructure construction.

Sen. Jim Honeyford, lead author of the chamber’s capital budget, said the bill would also include complete funding for 80 parks and trails across the state.  In a news release, Honeyford said: “These destination sites will provide an economic boon to their communities while encouraging folks to get outdoors.”

The Senate plan includes slight changes to the House plan, which was passed last week on a 96-2 vote.  The changes include the elimination of energy efficiency proposals supported by Governor Jay Inslee.  Rep. Hans Dunshee, who assembled the House bill, noted there are some other small changes but said the Senate bill focuses on many of the same issues.  Dunshee told The Washington Times, “I’m cautious, but I think what I see looks good.”

The Senate’s proposed amendments had their first public hearing last week and were sent to committee.  

GEORGIA

In Georgia, Republican Governor Nathan Deal signed a state budget which included $1.1 billion in borrowing for construction and equipment purchases.  The wide-ranging budget will help update facilities and create construction jobs throughout the state.  The bond package will also include $100 million to replace and repair bridges across the state and $75 million for transit projects.  Lawmakers also approved a transportation package which could pump $900 million a year into road and bridge projects.
 
The overall bond package is aimed at updating K-12, college, and other government construction and equipment projects.  According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the projects include:

• $271 million for k-12 school construction. Much of that will go to growing school systems in metro Atlanta.
• $28.5 million for a new human services building in Lawrenceville
• $23 million for a World Congress Center parking deck near the new Falcons stadium. The legislature included $17 million to start the project last year.
• $11.5 million to build an academic building at Georgia Gwinnett University
• $9 million for a wholesale cooler warehouse at the State Farmers’ Market in Forest Park
• $6.68 million to expand the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s morgue in DeKalb County
• $4.9 million to plan, design, build and equip a classroom building addition at Georgia State University
• $4.9 million for an English building renovation and addition at Kennesaw State University
• $2 million for a branch library in Marietta
• $2 million for a library renovation and expansion in Cumming
• $700,000 to design a student services building at Atlanta Metropolitan College
• $9.5 million for construction at the Future Farmers of America/Family, Career and Community Leaders of America Center in Covington.
• $1.5 million for a new library in Villa Rica
• $1.4 million to fund renovations at Clayton State University
• $500,000 to design the expansion of labs at Georgia Perimeter College’s Alpharetta campus
• $5 million to modernize and expand Georgia Tech’s chilled water system
• $10 million to relocate Lanier Technical College facilities

The construction funding package is the largest in Georgia since then Governor Sonny Perdue ramped up the state’s borrowing during the great recession in hopes of saving construction jobs.

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