With short legislative session, bonding bill is priority
Adapted from the Minneapolis Labor Review, December 20, 2019
By Steve Share, Minneapolis Labor Review editor
SAINT PAUL — The 2020 session of the Minnesota state legislature convenes February 11, right as the 2020 presidential election campaign season moves into high gear. Minnesota’s precinct caucuses will be February 25. The state’s presidential preference primary — the first since 1992 — will be March 3.
Amidst all the hoopla of the presidential election year, the state has serious business that needs attending: passing a bonding bill to fund pressing state infrastructure needs and create jobs.
“Our main focus will be on advancing a large bonding bill,” said Jessica Looman, executive director of the Minnesota State Building and Construction Trades Council. “We want to make sure there’s balance in the bonding bill,” she added, with investments in buildings, water infrastructure, and transportation.
“We’re thinking broadly about what bonding is and how to use it,” Looman said.
She noted that about $5 billion in a range of projects already have been submitted for consideration.
“We want to make sure that the bonding capacity in the state is used to help drive development and address our infrastructure needs,” Looman said.
“Priorities for us will be, number one, jobs, which it always is,” said Jason George, business manager for Operating Engineers Local 49. “We’ve neglected transportation in this state — there’s a lot of work to be done.”
He added, “especially with a budget surplus, we’ll be looking for more money to repair the state’s roads and bridges.”
Funding transportation “with bonding alone won’t approach what the needs are,” cautioned DFL Representative Frank Hornstein, who chairs the House transportation finance and policy division. Increasing the state’s gas tax to get new revenue to fund transportation remains critical, he said, but the comprehensive transportation bill passed last session by the House didn’t even get a real hearing in the Republican-controlled Senate.
For this coming session, Hornstein doesn’t see an effort to increase the gas tax. “We’re kind of in a holding pattern until the next election,” he said.
With a DFL majority in the House, and a Republican majority in the Senate, finding common ground can be difficult.
“We are going to work very hard to get the best possible outcomes this session, no matter how challenging it might be,” commented Representative Ryan Winkler, the House Majority Leader.
“There’s no question the election will be looming,” Winkler said. “What I don’t know, if Senate Republicans will take action on issues that are extremely popular in the districts.”
“We have a long list of issues we worked on last year — we’re going to try again,” Winkler said, including family leave, sick and safe time, gun violence, and emergency insulin.
The legislature must adjourn by May 18.
“Everything is going to be scrunched into a very short session and then [we’re] moving right into the elections,” noted Julie Bleyhl, AFSCME Council 5’s executive director.
Like the trades, “we’ll be involved in bonding as well,” Bleyhl said. “There’s a number of proposals that involve the worksites where our members work” including higher education, corrections, transportation, the Department of Natural Resources. “Every agency has a piece in the bonding bill,” she said.
In the policy arena, Bleyhl said AFSCME Council 5 will be continuing previous efforts: supporting safe staffing levels — an issue driven home by the deaths last year of correctional officers — supporting family leave, supporting a bill to ban private prisons, supporting a bill to oppose the expansion of ICE detention centers, opposing an expected bill to pre-empt local policies like local minimum wage laws.
While the focus for the trades will be the bonding bill, Local 49’s Jason George said policy issues also will be addressed.
As the state moves forward with policies for a clean energy economy, he said, “what’s left out of the discussion is who’s going to be building the new infrastructure?”
“We need to do more to ensure those are good-paying union jobs,” he said.
December 10, the Minnesota State Building Trades Council issued a statement affirming support for a new Senate DFL Clean Energy Caucus (see link).
George also mentioned another policy priority: a pipeline safety bill that includes penalties for people who violently protest. “We need to do more to ensure that people can’t freely break the law without serious consequences,” he said, in the wake of recent pipeline protests. “Worker safety in building these projects should be the priority.”
The 2020 session of the Minnesota legislature convenes February 11 and must adjourn by May 18.