Bonding plan includes funds for repairs at aging prisons.

 
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Byline: Brian Johnson

At the Minnesota Department of Corrections' Togo prison, a minimum security lockup for adult males near Hibbing, it doesn't take long for visitors to get a whiff of the facility's deferred maintenance needs.

"You can tell when you step out of your car there is a sewage problem at that facility," said Safia Khan, the department's government relations director.

Sewage system repairs are a big priority at Togo, but that's just one example of the asset preservation backlog within the Minnesota DOC system. Other needs run the gamut from building system fixes to window and door replacements.

"We have facilities that are 100 years old; some are historic sites," Kahn said in an interview. "And the wear and tear within these buildings, where people live and work, all of that has a cost every day."

Gov. Tim Walz's newly unveiled $2 billion bonding proposal offers $45.5 million for Minnesota DOC asset preservation. The funding would take a chunk out of the department's $595 million deferred maintenance need.

Bonding is sure to be a lively topic during the 2020 legislative session, which begins Feb. 11. The ultimate size of a potential bonding bill remains to be seen. Bonding requires a three-fifths majority to pass, so it needs buy-in from both parties.

As previously reported, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, a Republican from Nisswa, prefers to keep bonding under $1 billion, which is more typical of a bonding bill in an even-numbered year.

Minnesota Management and Budget office fielded about $5 billion worth of bonding requests, including $3.7 billion from state agencies and $1.3 billion from local governments, according to the MMB.

Walz's recommendation is part of a $3.4 billion spending plan for public works projects. The package includes $2 billion in general obligation bonds, $600 million in sources such as general fund money and other bonds, and $887 million in federal money.

Among other things, the Walz plan would borrow money for higher education projects ($447 million), water infrastructure ($293 million), affordable housing ($276 million), local roads ($100 million) and local bridges ($112 million).

In a 50-page summary, Walz recommends specific projects ranging from State Capitol Complex security upgrades ($10 million) to a new chemistry teaching laboratory at the University of Minnesota ($65.6 million).

In a new twist, Walz proposes $30 million in general fund cash to support "community-based organizations that...

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