Our Opinion: Bonding for Cuyuna trails is a good area investment
May 23 is approaching fast.
That’s the date that the Minnesota Legislature is set to adjourn, presumably with its work for the session completed. It’s looking more and more like that won’t be happening.
Numerous important issues still need to be resolved, including a bonding bill in which funding for several area projects hangs in the balance.
Last week, a $1.5 billion bonding bill offered by Democrats in the Senate fell one vote shy of the needed three-fifths majority. The governor has proposed a $1.4 billion bonding bill, and the Republican-controlled House plans a $600 million proposal, though details of that plan have not been released.
Lack of legislative action has meant bonding for projects across the state, including several in the Brainerd area such as $4.2 million to expand mountain biking trails in Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area, is in limbo. We’re hoping state legislators can come to a compromise, and the funding for the trails is included in the bonding bill because it could result in an economic boon for the area.
Aaron Hautala, volunteer president of the Cuyuna Lakes Mountain Bike Crew, told the Dispatch Editorial Board that the $4.2 million in funding would expand the trails from about 27 miles to 75 miles by 2020. Adding trails means mountain bikers stay in the area longer and could potentially spend up to $21 million annually.
The importance of the trails isn’t just tourism, Hautala said. The trails also are a draw for recruiting and maintaining talent in the area.
“Trails are a magnet to bring in the next generation. … Quality of life is a leading factor,” in how millennials choose where they’d like to live, Hautala said. “We need to make sure we take care of this gift.”
The nationally recognized mountain bike trails in Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area do not just benefit the Crosby area. Riders using the trails come from all over the world, Hautala said, and they lodge in the Mille Lacs Lake area, in Brainerd-Baxter and in Nisswa.
It’s good to see our local state legislators—Sen. Carrie Ruud, Sen. Paul Gazelka, Rep. Josh Heintzeman and Rep. Dale Lueck—supporting the project. In fact, nobody—Republican, Democrat—is saying this is a bad idea. If other legislators and Gov. Mark Dayton need an example of state investment in trails paying off, they need look no further than the Paul Bunyan Trail. Bonding for the trails needs to be looked at as an investment, not an expense.
So what’s the hold up?
The bonding amount put forth by each branch appears, at least outwardly, to be the problem. According to the Minnesota Management and Budget office, the current state bonding debt is $8.185 billion and the debt capacity guidelines show the state could borrow over $3 billion and still be in good financial standing, though the budget office is not recommending that amount.
Using those numbers, the state could handle even the highest bonding bill proposal and not be put in financial jeopardy. Such a bill will have to be debated on its merits.
If the hold up on bonding is merely political, that’s a failure on everyone’s part. It’s time we ask our elected officials to be leaders, to rise to the occasion and actually do what’s expected of them. Saying it’s too hard to come to a compromise is not acceptable.