MINNEAPOLIS — Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan will set out on a two-month tour of local construction and public works projects around the state to help determine which should get state funding, the pair announced Wednesday, Oct. 16.
It's typical for state lawmakers to venture out to tour potential projects, but the governor typically doesn't do a tour of his own. Walz, a Democrat, said he wanted to see the buildings, parks, wastewater facilities, roads, bridges and other public projects that communities hope will get state funding next year to gain some first-hand knowledge about the needs out there. And the tour could also help the governor gain some leverage in upcoming debates about how much the state should spend on the projects and which ones should be at the top of lawmakers' lists, he said.
Walz during the 2019 legislative session put forth a $1.27 billion bonding proposal and said he will compile a list that will at least match that heading into the 2020 legislative session. In total, local governments and state agencies have asked to have the state fund more than $5.3 billion in local projects.
“That does not even scratch the surface of what the needs are, but it starts to list their priorities,” Walz said at a news conference announcing the tour.
The governor said the state should take advantage of low interest rates and Minnesota's AAA bond rating to sell bonds to fund more than $1.27 billion worth of projects. Democratic leaders in the Legislature have said their bonding proposals could exceed $2 billion, while Republican leaders have said that number is too high.
The state will also roll out a website to allow Minnesotans to weigh in on proposed projects, learn more about who proposed them and see what they will cost.
Walz and Flanagan got to see one of the proposed projects on Wednesday as they visited the University of Minnesota's Institute of Child Development. The University has requested $29.2 million to demolish an addition to the building and construct a new section. In all, the University of Minnesota is seeking $317.2 million for various projects.
"It's clear that we've learned to do a lot with what we have, but it's not sustainable," University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel said, touting the university's best in the nation ranked developmental psychology program, "and it will be harder and harder to maintain our edge under the existing conditions."
Flanagan, an alumna of the Institute, said she supported the university's request for additional funds to replace part of the building to boost its research and training center.
“The building hasn’t changed a whole lot in the last 20 years, and we were crunched for space 20 years ago,” Flanagan said.
It's that kind of experience of walking across an aging bridge or seeing a flood diversion channel that can help administration officials get a better sense of the needs around the state, Walz said.
"It might not be the most thrilling thing to walk through a sewage treatment plant, but I tell you what, the community will not thrive and will not prosper without clean water," Walz said. “We want these communities to be able to make their case both in person as well as with what they’ve submitted."
The Minnesota Legislature is set to meet for the 2020 legislative session beginning Feb. 11.