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2020 bonding package: Walz recommends $448 million for higher ed

Minnesota Democratic Gov. Tim Walz on Friday, Jan. 10 in the Governor's Reception Room in St. Paul's Capitol proposes the state invest $300 million in water infrastructure as part of his 2020 bonding proposal. Sarah Mearhoff / Forum News Service

ST PAUL — Looking to better prepare young Minnesotans to enter the workforce, Democratic Gov. Tim Walz is proposing the state invest $448 million in higher education this year.

On Monday, Jan. 13, Walz rolled out the third of his four 2020 bonding proposals, which are expected to total approximately $2 billion. At a news conference at Anoka Ramsey Community College in Coon Rapids, Walz proposed hundreds of millions be put toward updating and maintaining public college and university campuses throughout Minnesota.

In a Monday news release, Walz said "insufficient space, aging facilities, and outdated technology on college campuses aren’t just holding our students back – they’re holding Minnesota back in the face of a workforce shortage that’s impacting every corner of the state."

Per Monday's release, the $448 million would help fund renovations, update technology and increase capacity, particularly for high-demand programs like health, business, technology, manufacturing and child development. And state assistance should help ease campuses' budgets, hopefully preventing tuition hikes, Walz said.

$142.5 million of Walz's higher education bond proposal is devoted to asset preservation and building and safety improvements on state campuses. Per Walz's release, Minnesota State Colleges and Universities currently hold approximately $1 billion in deferred maintenance needs to state-supported buildings.

Minnesota State Chancellor Devinder Malhotra said Walz's proposal demonstrates his "steadfast support" for higher education and workforce development.

“The capital projects and asset preservation work included in the Governor’s proposal would have a direct impact on the success of our 350,000 students by improving campus teaching and learning environments, enhancing STEM classrooms and labs, and streamlining critical student support services," Malhotra said.

$224.2 million of Walz's higher ed proposal is devoted to University of Minnesota. President Joan Gabel said in a statement that "investing in the University of Minnesota directly strengthens our entire state," and that Walz's proposal shows the administration's "commitment to the strong, foundational partnership between the state and the University."

Also included in Monday's announcement was a proposal for $30 million in bonding devoted to capital projects requested by Native communities and communities of color.

In Monday's release, Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan said that these communities have "been left out of state initiatives that foster growth and opportunity."

"That's why our Administration proactively sought out requests from communities that have not traditionally participated in the state bonding process to ensure Minnesotans of all backgrounds benefit," she said.

Walz has also recommended that all local governments who receive general obligation bonds commit to equal pay for equal work and workforce participation parity.

According to Walz's office, local governments and state agencies have in total requested $5.3 billion state funding for local projects, not all of which will be funded in 2020's package. Though Walz has not yet released his final proposed bonding total for 2020, state Republicans have remained wary of the $2 billion estimate.