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Bonding bill will be a high priority for organizations representing Minnesota cities in 2022 session

The 2022 Minnesota legislative session is coming up fast and organizations representing communities across the state are zeroing in on a bonding bill.

Minnesota State Capitol file photo
Minnesota State Capitol

BEMIDJI -- The 2022 Minnesota legislative session is coming up fast and organizations representing communities across the state are zeroing in on a bonding bill.

Bradley Peterson, executive director of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, said bonding legislation is a big-ticket item for the organization heading into the session. Peterson said the bonding bill is made even more important considering bills already passed by Congress.

"I think the opportunity is significant when you look at all of the other infrastructure money that's coming from the federal government, as well as the other money from the American Rescue Plan," Peterson said. "We'll be pressing the Legislature for a pretty significant bonding bill, especially in the area of water and wastewater."

According to Peterson, the state is receiving funding from the federal government for water infrastructure as well.

"It's not an excuse for the state to take the foot off the pedal when it comes to its own efforts through a bonding bill," he said. "We're also hopeful for dollars related to transportation, business development, child care and housing in that bonding bill."

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The last bonding bill was $1.9 billion, passed in a special session in October 2020 and signed into law by Gov. Tim Walz. The bill included $10.9 million to the city, which was used to help build a plant that removes chemicals from water wells near the Bemidji Regional Airport.

The plant began operating in spring 2021 and is expanding to handle more water.

For the upcoming session, Bemidji State University and Northwest Technical College officials are seeking $7.4 million in the 2022 bonding bill. The dollars would be used for mechanical upgrades at the Bangsberg Fine Arts Complex and roofing improvements at Sattgast Hall at BSU, as well as a new locking system at NTC.

Another focus for the CGMC will be increasing the Local Government Aid provided to cities across the state. Peterson said the CGMC is looking for an increase of $90 million.

Currently, the state's statutes has $564 million provided in LGA to cities on an annual basis. LGA is especially useful to cities like Bemidji, which have large amounts of non-taxable property.

In Bemidji, nearly 50% of the property is non-taxable, because of the land dedicated to BSU, health facilities and government buildings. The amount of LGA for Bemidji has steadily increased over the years, from a low of $2.82 million to $3.21 million in 2014 and $3.34 million in 2018.

"We did get a major injection of money a couple of years ago, but even with that, we're still under where we need to be," Peterson said. "We support appropriation by inflation and population growth. Right now, the appropriation annually is hardwired at $564 million. So if the Legislature does nothing to change that number, it stays the same from year to year."

Local control

Another organization, the League of Minnesota Cities, is also prioritizing the bonding bill and LGA in 2022, among other subjects. Anne Finn, LMC assistant director of intergovernmental relations, said the bonding bill and LGA are two of five main priorities for 2022, the others include housing, disability for public safety workers and local control.

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For local control, Finn said the LMC is committed to keeping policymaking in the hands of cities.

"In any typical legislative session, we see bills that either take away local authority to implement policies or provide services, and in other cases, they put mandates on local governments that are frustrating," Finn said. "We're always very watchful for any bills that inhibit local control or impose new requirements and we like to be ready to respond to any of those to take a defensive position."

Peterson also mentioned local control, specifically in relation to cities' abilities on housing development.

"There's going to be discussion at the Legislature related to building permits, zoning fees and more," Peterson said. "There's a feeling at the Legislature among some that if you restrict cities' ability to do some of those things, that you would make housing more affordable.

"We don't necessarily agree that one follows the other and certainly we're in favor of cities being able to guide their own development without structure from the state, other than the basics of health and safety. That's something in addition to finding more resources to housing in general."

The disability matter for the LMC, meanwhile, is a new one for the organization.

"We're seeing a troubling trend around public safety employees who are seeking benefits around duty disability," Finn said. " That means potentially going to the public employee retirement association to get a duty disability determination and taking an early retirement with benefits."

Finn said many of those public safety employees are also going to file claims for worker's compensation, which has become expensive for taxpayers.

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"We've seen a real acceleration of post-traumatic stress disorders since the Legislature passed a new rule in 2019 allowing workers to make claims for PTSD," Finn said. "Those claims are very costly and they're difficult to deal with for the employees. We're looking at some potential solutions around reducing the number of claims. We want the state to be a better partner with employers on doing preventative work and getting treatment for people who need it."

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