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Bonding bill to take center stage for Northland lawmakers in 2020

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ST. PAUL, MN -- Seventy million dollars worth of projects for Duluth and St. Louis County are being considered at the state capitol as the legislative session has officially kicked off for 2020.

It's all about the bonding bill for the Northland this year, with a whole list of projects the area is looking to get state funding for.

With a divided government and a short session, it could be a tall task to get everything done on time.

"Between Duluth, the County, UMD, Lake Superior College, there's probably 6 to 8 projects there that should rise to the top of the list," said Sen. Erik Simonson, DFL - Duluth.

Those projects include upgrades to WLSSD, AB Anderson Hall on the UMD Campus, repacing the seawalls behind the DECC, repairing the Lakewalk, infrastructure upgrades to The Depot upgrades at LSC and more. It's a handful of projects for the city, aimed at improving infrastructure, tourist attractions and more.

"Each of these projects has been pretty well vetted and is really, they really are quality projects that are important to our local economy," said Simonson.

Near Grand Rapids, Rep. Sandy Layman said they are looking to make the Mississippi River corridor more attractive to private investments.

"That is a real regional project that would help the economy in Itasca County," she said.

And improving the civic center in town.

"That brings in all kinds of tourism dollars, it hosts lots of hockey tournaments and other events as well," said Layman, R - Cohasset.

Layman said she would also like to see the $1.3 billion surplus be used for a tax bill aimed at cutting income taxes from social security payouts, as well as eliminating the Commercial Industrial State Property Tax.

Rep. Jennifer Schultz from Duluth said 2020 is a good year for a bonding bill.

"We have a triple-A bond rating, so it's a really good time to invest in Minnesota for these projects, and it will spur economic development," said Schultz, DFL - Duluth.

Passing that will be a major task as the House and Senate, controlled by Democrats and Republicans respectively, are separated by about $2-billion.

"If we can't get it off the floor then we're going to have to modify it before sending it off to the Senate," said Schultz.

With the Bonding Bill the major task at hand this year, lawmakers say there will be no shortage of people's work to be done.

"All us legislators want to do as much as we can for our communities and for the state," said Schultz.

There are some carryover items from 2019 including gun control bills and recreational marijuana. Neither topic appears likely to gain any positive traction.

One that does though is making insulin more affordable for diabetics, which has been a priority for both parties.

There will also be a new dynamic for the Northland in St. Paul after losing Democratic Senator Tom Bakk, an Iron Range lawmaker, as the minority leader in the Senate.

It's still too early to tell what impact that will have. However, Simonson said replacing Bakk's position with a Twin Cities senator no doubt will have an impact on how the concerns of the Northland are addressed at the capital.

Reporter Anthony Matt

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