Minnesota lawmakers are gearing up for the legislative session that begins Jan. 28. One major item on their agenda this year is a state bonding bill.
Bonding refers to money the state borrows to finance infrastructure improvements around the state, from roads and bridges, to new buildings at state college campuses, to state park improvements. But that's not all. Sometimes, the state ponies up money for local improvements, such as fire halls, community centers or parks.
There is some debate about whether hometown projects should be funded by the state, or whether these are simply "pork," i.e. money brought home by lawmakers to make themselves look good. A?general standard, notes our state representative, Bob Gunther, is that state bonding should involve projects with statewide significance, and with local government partners that provide local matching funds.
But when the state is including local projects in the bonding bill, should lawmakers ignore or reject the possible funding based on opposition to "pork"? This can be a really tough call. If the state is spending money on local projects, should only other places around Minnesota benefit? After all, everyone from every part of the state pays taxes and therefore will be paying down the bonds over time.
Yes, ideally, the state would not get involved in funding lawmakers' pet projects. But once the ball starts rolling, every lawmaker is going to make sure his or her district receives something.
That process is, indeed, troubling. The solution lies in voters demanding that all lawmakers pledge to refrain from trying to obtain pork. Or, it requires a strong governor who will veto bills laden with hometown projects.