Story published: October 19, 2020

For months, even years, lawmakers have toured the state to hear community concerns before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. More than $5 billion dollars of requests came in for state-funded construction projects, and nearly $2 billion made the final bill that needed a bipartisan supermajority to pass.

On site at one projects, Senate Capital Investments Chair Dave Senjem remarked, “This one was the whole town – there must have been 70 or 80 people there, and that’s a good turnout. And that tells us, at least as a community, that there’s something going on in this town that’s important to them that matter, and we listen harder to them.” The town of Henderson literally becomes an island during frequent floods, and residents implored the legislature to help. “Number one, it’s a public-safety issue, and number two, it’s an economic issue,” said Sen. Scott Newman (R-Hutchinson) who represents the area, “It’s a cute, little river town, and no retail, no stores, can survive if you’re closed 20, 30, 40 days during the course of the summer because you’re under water.”

Wastewater is also an enormous issue across Minnesota, with aging infrastructure like the Austin Water Treatment Plant that dates back to Roosevelt’s WPA, which has open-air wastewater in a system that’s at capacity. House Capital Investments Chair Mary Murphy noted, “Now we get all the senses involved, and we see and smell how it fits with the total community, and that’s important because Minnesotans are counting on us.”

Rosemount’s National Guard Readiness Center is a project close to the Governor, who is a former soldier. The state’s chief executive hit the road to get increased attention for billions in bonding requests. “The administration has a platform to talk to the public,” Gove. Walz stated. He added that local elected officials show up to demonstrate they’re invested in their communities, which ”allows me to get out there, see that, make the case and see the buy-in from the community.”

Lots of other local projects we toured made the list, including the St. Peter Regional Treatment Center Phase 2 and  Historic Hastings City Hall, designed by Capitol architect Cass Gilbert. The Wabasha National Eagle Center and Riverfront Revitalization, along with a nearby project in Lake City also made the cut.

In the 5th special session since the pandemic and the last before the election, lawmakers felt extra pressure to finally get a deal done. DFL House Speaker Melissa Hortman said they’ve “worked for months,” and DFL House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler spoke about the “thousands and thousands of jobs” the bill creates.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka concluded, It wasn’t working together at the end, and that’s really what I think Minnesota wanted – that we worked together. They did want us to get the bonding bill done…. The way it happened is what we’re frustrated with.”

Ultimately, the big bonding/tax/budget bill passed overwhelmingly with large supermajorities in both chambers of the Minnesota Legislature.

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The charming town of Henderson, Minn., is overflowing with history and character. But the way water has flowed all around this Minnesota River city has caused a number of issues: Unusually wet weather in 2019 spurred so much flooding that roads were completely submerged, leaving residents stuck on an isolated island. This latest bonding bill brings the town some much-needed relief.

Before the pandemic, Minnesota had a budget surplus – and one issue stood out: Minnesota’s infrastructure is aging, and several projects across the state could benefit from bonding money. In 2019, Mary Lahammer accompanied lawmakers on a trip to southern Minnesota to learn more about the area’s needs.

Governor Tim Walz convened a discussion with COVID-19 survivors and healthcare professionals to try to humanize the numbers behind the unprecedented pandemic. Mary Lahammer takes a look at the impact of rising virus cases in the Midwest.