Public Pools to Robotic Mowers: The Minnesota Bonding Bill

A new bonding bill doling out $825 million was passed during Minnesota’s most recent legislative session. This bill, signed into law by Governor Dayton, directs how our state is to allocate the money it derives from the issuance of state bonds.

Of course Minnesota will eventually have to use taxpayer dollars to pay out these bonds with interest. This means that Minnesota gets to spend money it raises from its citizens, but has to pay back a larger sum of money to the bond holders at the end of the day.

A snake eating its own tail?

Whenever tax dollars are involved, Minnesotans have every right to be concerned with how that money is being spent. While a good portion of the $825 million is being used for items like infrastructure maintenance or other worthy governmental tasks, there are items included which seem less deserving of the public dollar.

Many of these questionable expenditures can be found earmarked within the $79,400,000 given to the University of Minnesota. The school’s “Pollinator Ambassadors Program” is one such initiative. This program has only managed to reach 26 Minnesota youth during its 2 year existence, teaching them about “pollinators in gardens and yards.” While the private sector would see this level of activity as a total failure, the state assessed the project as deserving a quarter million dollars.

Unfortunately, the relatively small sum of $250,000 isn’t the totality of seemingly wasteful bonding bill expenditures occurring at Minnesota’s public university. The common taxpayer may scratch his head upon realizing that this bill also donates $1.6 million for scholars to research robotic weed control mowers. While this may seem like an unusual initiative for tax dollars to enable, it at least has potential to produce a material result. The $600,000 UMN received vaguely to “identify management actions to maximize benefits to wildlife” has no such potential.

St. Paul seems to have no problem using state tax dollars for heavily localized initiatives either.

New Hope is getting a state funded pool for $2 million. Fergus Falls is slated to receive $600,000 state dollars for recreational development. Chisago County is constructing a one and a half mile walking trail costing the taxpayer $2.3 million, and Grant County is receiving $100,000 for a similar project. While it’s entirely admirable to better local communities, citizens of Rochester, Stewartville or Bemidji may be concerned by the state choosing to give special attention to the development of certain communities, funded by citizens of another.

At the close of the 2017-18 legislative session, there was a general sense of malaise with this 11th hour bonding bill that most agreed could have been improved. Yet here we are, stuck with wasteful spending on the backs of bonds which do nothing but procrastinate and enlarge the final tab.

Kyle Hooten is a sophomore at St. Olaf College and an intern for Center of the American Experiment.