Affordable housing is a reasonable budget priority for Minnesota

With an estimated state budget surplus of $7.7 billion, Minnesota could count itself lucky heading into what is traditionally the year when liaison work takes center stage in the Assembly. legislative.

The surplus gives our elected officials fiscal leeway to rethink how and why the state spends the money it collects from taxpayers. Just like in a personal budget, when there is no extra cushion in the checking account, discussions of how to spend are brief. When there is a healthy savings account, the options are endless.

Talks on what to do with the surplus promise to extend talks in St. Paul this year. The fact that this is an election year, with nearly everyone invested in winning votes, will likely complicate matters further.

This week, Governor Tim Walz proposed a record $2.7 billion government spending plan, including $2 billion to be funded through the sale of general-bond revenue bonds. The priorities of his proposal are as follows:

  • Asset preservation, up to $1 billion. “Asset preservation” refers to repair and maintenance work on state-owned facilities.
  • $940 million for climate change projects.
  • General infrastructure projects worth $560 million, including $120 million for bridge replacements, $90 million for road projects and $200 million for water infrastructure.
  • $450 million for affordable housing projects.

We maintain the asset preservation stance we took in 2021: spend $1 billion, and here’s some context for that opinion: it’s estimated that the Department of Corrections alone has a maintenance backlog of over $640 million. of dollars. Now extrapolate that situation to dozens of campuses, state agencies, and other state-owned assets and $1 billion seems too little to fix the problem, not too much.

Responsible leaders don’t continually push back critical maintenance projects. Keeping state-owned assets in safe and healthy working order may not be a great campaign slogan, but catching up on a tiny fraction of state deferred maintenance projects is great stewardship that will to save taxpayers’ money in the future.

Housing is in crisis in Minnesota, with the availability of affordable real estate for working families in dire need. This affects the job market, which affects the economy as a whole, which affects Minnesota’s quality of life and competitiveness. So that number also seems like a reasonable expense given the scale of the problem.

While it’s not part of the Governor’s proposed bail bill, we’re less enthusiastic about his proposal to return some of the surplus to taxpayers through direct payments – not because some of the excess should come back to us (it absolutely should) but because the amount offered is nominal at best.

Note that the record capital expenditure budget proposed by Walz would be financed primarily by bond issues. Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Jim Schowalter said the proposed spending of $2.7 billion was achievable.

“This recommendation is fiscally responsible. It’s in our budget guidelines, in our financial guidelines, and it really helps move a lot of good projects forward. It supports a lot of deferred maintenance that we really need to take care of,” he said.

So if we can afford such a long list of projects without dipping into the surplus (a lot), lawmakers should consider being more aggressive in getting that money back where it came from – back to us.

So far, many of the responses to the governor’s plan have revived common sense. Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City and a ranking Republican on the House Capital Investment Committee, said he “wasn’t interested in setting a bonding record.” We agree.

And this from Sen. Tom Bakk, I-Cook, who caucus with Republicans and chairs the Senate Capital Investments Committee: “If this can’t pass, then I think there needs to be a bipartisan conversation about gender. what’s the number, rather than everyone playing cat and mouse by May,” Bakk said. We also agree on this point, although we are skeptical that the Legislative Assembly will break its habit of passing bills at the last minute in the middle of the night this year.

The session opens on January 31. Now is the time to pay attention and inform your legislator of your priorities.

— So says the St. Cloud Times editorial board, which includes chief information officer Lisa Schwarz and content coach Anna Haecherl.

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