Senate releases bonding measure for flood prevention
ST. PAUL -- Minnesota senators considered spending $26 million for flood prevention projects Tuesday, a day when much of the state was buried in snow that could melt into spring flood waters.
Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, shepherded the bill through his Senate Capital Investment Committee Tuesday night, the first action on a $367.4 million plan to fix state-owned buildings, build a few new ones and do other public works projects that legislators say will put Minnesotans to work at a time when unemployment is soaring.
The full Senate could vote on the measure as early as later this week, although the equivalent House committee has yet to announce when it will have a bill prepared. Gov. Tim Pawlenty says he only wants a public works bill -- which is funded by the state selling bonds -- if needed to build projects partially funded with federal economic stimulus money.
Tuesday's snowstorm, which as Langseth convened the meeting had brought much of northwestern Minnesota to a standstill, was a reminder to the committee chairman why the so-called bonding bill is needed. Langseth feared that the added snow could lead to floods, something that his bill is designed to prevent.
The $26 million Langseth included for flood control is concentrated in northwestern Minnesota, but the bill itself does not dole out specific amounts.
Overall, the bill would have an impact across the state. State-run colleges and universities alone would get nearly $150 million, $85 million of which is earmarked for routine repairs on campuses.
Langseth said such repairs usually involve local contractors, who now lack work.
The senator said now is the time to fix state facilities because with contractors hurting for work, their prices are lower.
State Economist Tom Stinson opened the meeting with a sobering report indicating an economy worsening faster than predicted only a short time ago. The country's 8 percent-plus unemployment rate is the worst in a quarter century, he said.
The federal economic stimulus package, which sends billions of dollars to Minnesota, will help keep or create 45,000 Minnesota jobs, Stinson said. However, he encouraged senators to pass a public works bill to preserve more jobs.
"State government needs to help," he said. "We need funding that can start immediately."
Stinson urged lawmakers to pass the measure soon, not waiting until the end of the year's legislative session in May.
Repair projects typically are the fastest to get under way, Stinson said.
The committee appeared to unanimously approve the bill in a voice vote. No one spoke against it.
Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Daily Globe.