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Bonding a common bond for south Washington County lawmakers

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All three south Washington County lawmakers will be involved when the Legislature crafts a new state public works funding bill.

Dan Schoen, DFL-St. Paul Park, is serving on the Senate Capital Investment Committee, and Reps. Tony Jurgens and Keith Franke both landed spots on the House Capital Investment Committee as freshman legislators. Those committees assemble the so-called bonding bill that funds state and regional construction projects and puts state-borrowed money toward some local construction projects.

"I do think that having all three of us on the two Capital Investment committees should be a good thing for our constituents," said Jurgens, R-Cottage Grove.

Jurgens and Franke are in the House majority, an advantage when trying to get local projects included in a bonding bill. Schoen will serve in the minority, where it generally is more difficult to get bills considered and included, but a bonding package requires more votes for passage, so Republicans will need DFL support.

"With a one-vote majority, everything's going to be a deal," Schoen said of how Republicans' narrow Senate majority will affect legislation.

The lawmakers all pointed to the proposed HERO Center in Cottage Grove as a possible local project that could be a target for further state bonding money. The center would be a regional law enforcement and emergency response facility. Still in its planning stages, the regional law enforcement and emergency response training facility has received some state funding already, but supporters need to secure more local and state money for construction to proceed.

The Legislature's main job in 2017 is to set a new two-year state budget, but without passage of a bonding bill in 2016 there will be pressure to pass one this year.

"I would expect that there will be an attempt," Schoen said.

Franke, R-St. Paul Park, said he looks forward to scrutinizing bonding requests as a Capital Investment Committee member.

"I'm more of a fiscal hawk, so I think I'll be able to enjoy it," he said.

Despite his committee position, Franke said some local projects he's interested in pursuing may actually fall within a transportation funding bill instead of a bonding bill. That could include legislation addressing concerns about large truck traffic on St. Paul Park Road and Third Street in St. Paul Park.

Schoen and Jurgens both pointed to Afton water and Hastings river development projects as possible local bonding requests.

Other committees

Bonding is the only shared committee assignment of the three lawmakers.

Franke was also assigned to the Public Safety and Security Police and Finance Committee, Property Tax and Local Government Finance Division and a Veterans Affairs committee.

Franke said he thinks his experience as St. Paul Park mayor will "help bring some sensibility" to decisions made in the local government committee.

"Sometimes there isn't a thought process when handing down decisions to your local municipalities, so hopefully I can bring some experience to that conversation," he said.

Jurgens' other committee assignments are education finance and agriculture finance. He anticipates preschool funding will be a focus of the education committee. Gov. Mark Dayton and Republicans in control of the Legislature have differed on how best to provide early childhood education.

Jurgens said state-mandated preschool provided by public school districts could present funding and classroom space challenges for districts.

"I think that that is something that needs to be available to all children and their families," he said, "but I don't think that that needs to be mandated that it's part of a school district's responsibility."

A South Dakota native who grew up around farming, Jurgens said he was happy with his other assignment on the House Agriculture Finance Committee. His House District 54B includes agricultural areas from the eastern edges of Cottage Grove through south Washington County and into Hastings and Nininger Township.

In addition to the Senate Capital Investment Committee, Schoen was appointed to a veterans affairs committee and a committee handling public safety, judiciary and civil law. Schoen serviced on public safety and civil law committees in the House.

Schoen said he wants to find ways to efficiently use law enforcement and National Guard resources. The public safety committee also will deal with an ongoing controversy over Real ID, the need for the state to adopt federally approved driver's licenses or identification cards. Based on previous legislative fights over the issue, Schoen said he is not optimistic about a deal on Real ID and has been "highly encouraging people to get their passport." Real ID requirements for airline travel could go into effect in 2018.

The GOP holds a one-vote margin in the Senate, but Schoen said he expects conservative Republicans to push social issues, such as anti-gay legislation, that would be under the public safety and civil law committee's jurisdiction.

"I think the temptation is going to be strong," he said.

This is Schoen's first term in the Senate and the first legislative session for Franke and Jurgens. Franke said he is hopeful they can work across party lines.

"Between me, Tony and Dan we'll be able to work together to get some things accomplished for the people in our area," Franke said.

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

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