Wednesday, February 1, 2023

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As Session Nears, MN Faces Renewed Pressure Over Public-Works Funds

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Wednesday, December 7, 2022   

Minnesota's projected budget surplus now stands at more than $17 billion, and supporters of clean energy projects and other infrastructure needs say the outlook should compel state lawmakers to approve matching funds tied to federal support.

The updated economic forecast comes one year after the federal infrastructure law was signed. It includes funding for things like electric vehicle charging stations. The federal grants require matching funds, and Minnesota is among the states that have yet to follow up.

Sen. Nick Frentz, DFL-North Mankato, who is poised to be Assistant Majority Leader, said they cannot wait much longer.

"There are some states out there who are ahead of us in appropriating these matching funds," Frentz pointed out. "And given the budget news, I don't see any reason Minnesota should be behind other states in seeking these federal funds, which after all, come from tax dollars paid in part by Minnesotans."

Lawmakers reconvene early next month, and advocates argued waiting until later in the session means losing federal funds to projects elsewhere. State officials say more than 80% of Minnesota's share requires matching dollars. While Democrats will control the Legislature and governor's office, Frentz cautioned there could be spirited conversations about which projects to prioritize.

Last session, Republican leaders did not state opposition to the matching funds, but argued the matter could be dealt with in 2023.

Gregg Mast, executive director of Clean Energy Economy Minnesota, said he hopes there is bipartisan support, but echoed waiting creates more uncertainty for projects.

"As we have seen over the last couple of years, there are so many disruptions within the supply chain that the earlier that we have certainty that we have funds set aside to go after and match the federal dollars, the better," Mast emphasized. "Because we can keep these projects moving forward."

Daniel Lightfoot, intergovernmental relations representative and federal relations manager for the League of Minnesota Cities, said costs are another concern tied to delays.

"We've seen some trends with materials, as well as interest rates, that are kind-of going up and up," Lightfoot pointed out. "There could be a situation where projects that have been delayed by months or even years have now completely different price tags."

He added it is a big burden for under-resourced communities at a time when many municipalities are showing interest in helping the state transition to clean energy sources.


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