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Minnesota governor seeks new emergency center under public safety plan

Associated Press

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FILE - Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz discusses his plans for the 2020 legislative session and other issues in an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019 in his office at the state Capitol in St. Paul, Minn. (AP Photo/Steve Karnowski)

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Gov. Tim Walz went to the state’s cramped Emergency Operations Center on Wednesday to propose a $29.5 million replacement as part of his $2 billion public infrastructure borrowing proposal for the 2020 legislative session.

The plan was part of a $857 million package the Democratic governor proposed investing in public safety and asset preservation projects statewide. He also proposed a long list of $675 million worth of local projects for communities across Minnesota.

And for the first time Walz put a precise total on his overall borrowing proposal, often known as a bonding bill, of $2.028 million. That figure also includes packages the governor announced over the past week for housing, water projects and higher education facilities. His administration assembled the lists from more than $5 billion in requests from state agencies and local governments.

“The needs far outpace the ability to be able to deliver on them, but this gives us a plan on how we get there, making sure that Minnesota communities have safe drinking water, have adequate housing, have training so that our next generation gets the education they need,” he said.

A bonding bill will be among the top items on the agenda for the 2020 session, which convenes Feb. 11. Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said Monday that he’d prefer to see a package under $1 billion, while Democratic House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler has floated a number as high as $3.5 billion.

As in previous years, the final package that emerges is likely to be the subject of contentious negotiations in the closing days of a legislative session. The $2.028 billion Walz proposes to borrow would be in the form of “general obligation” bonds, which require a 60% majority in both houses to pass, under the state constitution. His overall capital budget also includes an additional $571 million in other financing.

Budget Commissioner Myron Frans said servicing $2.028 billion in new debt would cost taxpayers about $182 million over the next three years. The state is currently facing a projected $1.3 billion budget surplus.

The emergency operations center where Walz held his news conference is where top state officials gather to coordinate responses to disasters or a terrorist attack. The governor chose the venue as just one example of the kinds of facilities that would be replaced or upgraded under his proposals.

“Our personnel in Minnesota are the most responsible and the best at responding to emergency management of anyplace in the country,” he said. “The facilities that they use, not so much.”

The new center would much larger that the center’s current offices in downtown St. Paul, which the state rents for $500,000 a year. It would be farther away from the Capitol complex in case state government had to be relocated due to an emergency there. And it would have better security, backup power and communications, Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington said.

Other public safety proposals announced Wednesday include over $14 million for security upgrades, property acquisition and other projects in the Capitol complex; nearly $62 million for repairs and upgrades at correctional facilities; $116 million for safety improvements at railroad crossings; and $112 million for local bridge replacements.

“Safe and reliable infrastructure is not just a nicety, its a matter of public safety,” Harrington said.