Editorial Roundup: Minnesota

Minneapolis Star Tribune. May 21, 2024.

Editorial: Minnesota’s legislative session: All that acrimony, so little action

Leaders should work to fix a broken political process, starting with a special session on a bonding bill.

The 2024 legislative session, including the late-night shouting, is over.

But the Minnesota Legislature’s work is not.

In fact, after a historic 2023 session, what’s most notable about this year is what didn’t pass. Most profoundly, a bonding bill, despite the tradition of even-year sessions passing statewide infrastructure investments. That failure leaves many communities, colleges, universities and other entities without funding that’s often needed just to maintain previous state commitments.

Because bonding bills require a three-fifths majority vote, bipartisanship in a closely divided Legislature is necessary. But cross-aisle cohesion was far from view during Sunday’s chaotic conclusion to the session.

Minnesota’s reputation for good governance and a generally civil civic process was built by both parties, whether control of the House and the Senate was split or under the control of one party (as it currently is with the DFL, which along with Gov. Tim Walz has a governing trifecta). Those past leaders worked together, however imperfectly, to get the people’s work done.

This year the work wasn’t finished by Sunday night’s midnight deadline, leaving not just the bonding bill but other key initiatives incomplete. Among them were measures that the Star Tribune Editorial Board had argued should have been priorities for both parties, including a proposed Equal Rights Amendment, which the Senate failed to pass, as well as sports betting, which didn’t get done despite extraordinary efforts by some Republican and DFL legislators to hammer out a compromise.

Instead, the DFL pushed through a massive, last-minute omnibus bill, which along with some previously approved legislation does contain some wins, such as stronger penalties for straw purchasers of guns and a ban on binary triggers; changes to last year’s cannabis-legalization protocols that should ensure a smoother opening to the retail marketplace next year; legislation to curb the market for stolen copper wire, and funding that was imperative for rural emergency services.

But overall, breakthroughs this session were few and far between. And the one significant successful episode of last-minute legislating was a bill that will raise rideshare driver pay without driving the two dominant companies, Uber and Lyft, from Minnesota. While welcome, it doesn’t set the state apart, but merely avoids a crisis created by ill-advised and ill-timed action by the Minneapolis City Council.

Many Republicans, and respected entities like the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, are calling on Walz to veto the omnibus bill. That’s unlikely, and actually would make governance harder considering the nuts-and-bolts aspect to some of the legislation. But the chamber was right to write, in a statement, that “voters put their trust in elected officials to do right by them — Minnesotans deserve better.”

Indeed they do. From all legislators from both parties, whose leaders are now exchanging blame for an ending characterized by acrimony, not action. DFL leaders are right that Republicans in effect tried to filibuster key bills, slowing the process down so dramatically that the clock would run out. GOP leaders are right that the rights of a legislative minority must be respected.

Notably, the same trifecta was in power last year, and although almost every Republican disagreed with the legislative outcome, the output and the process were different. Something fundamentally went wrong this session, and leaders worthy of that mantle should roll up their sleeves together to fix it.

A good start would be agreeing to a special session to pass a bonding bill, which by design affects every corner of the state, in Republican and DFL districts alike. By mutually investing in infrastructure, perhaps lawmakers can also rebuild something of enduring value: trust.


Mankato Free Press. May 16, 2024.

Editorial: Infrastructure: The cost of projects keeps escalating

We have for years bemoaned the inability, or unwillingness, of recent state legislatures to reach the necessary consensus to fund infrastructure projects. This tendency was particularly irritating during the decade or so when both inflation and interest rates were minimal.

That set of optimal conditions for public work projects is past, as sharply illustrated this week when the city of Mankato bit the bullet and approved a multi-year project to upgrade its wastewater treatment system.

The project was first put out for bid in the winter of 2021-22 with an estimated cost of $45 million. More than three years later, the work is about to be begin with a price tag near $89 million, almost twice the initial budget.

The winning bid was also the only bid — and it was itself 11.6% above the city’s most recent estimate.

The City Council wisely absorbed the sticker shock and ratified the contract Monday. Assembling the financing for the escalating cost has been a long process, and it makes no sense to revisit it. Further delay is not likely to raise more funds or lower the expense.

The system, it should be noted, is not simply a Mankato issue. It also serves the municipalities of North Mankato, Eagle Lake, Madison Lake and Skyline, plus South Bend Township and the Lake Washington Sanitation District. It is truly a regional service, and as such merits the state’s financial support.

This week the council was also told that the city has successfully sold $11.2 million in bonds to finance street and utility projects and the All Seasons Arena project (which, like the wastewater system, is a regional endeavor shared by several other local governments). The interest rates on those two debt issuances are both under 3.5%, but still considerably higher than during the pandemic.

The Minnesota Legislature would do well to heed the moral here. The Legislature is in the final days of its 2024 session and once again in its habitual partisan standoff over the bonding bill, which requires a two-thirds vote for approval. The trajectory of the Mankato wastewater project, and of its other borrowing, illustrates the cost of procrastination on such matters.