On Tuesday, February 11, 2020, the Minnesota Legislature returned to the Capitol for the start of the 2020 legislative session. Having passed a biennial state budget in 2019, this year’s “short session” will run until May 18, 2020. With the only politically divided state legislature in the nation and all 201 legislators on the ballot this November, most Capitol insiders don’t expect much in the way of significant legislation—apart from a statewide infrastructure proposal—to become law this year.
The slate was set in early January when Gov. Tim Walz (DFL) released an ambitious capital investment proposal, calling for approximately $2 billion in public works projects. The proposal is intended to utilize the state’s strong bond rating and low-interest rates to address the state’s aging infrastructure and create shovel-ready employment opportunities in the coming years when many economic experts are predicting significant economic slowdowns. The governor’s proposal was greeted with enthusiasm from legislative Democrats, including leadership in the House of Representatives, while Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R-Nisswa), urged caution that the state not over-extend itself and take on excessive debt.
A central piece of the governor’s capital investment proposal was the calling for $276 million to develop affordable housing options. This included $200 million in housing infrastructure bonds to support the construction of affordable housing units and permanent housing for individuals experiencing homelessness as well as $60 million to preserve, repair and upgrade existing public housing complexes, and $10.7 million for maintenance and repairs to the state’s 58 veterans’ homes. While the role of the state in supplying affordable housing options is likely to be debated throughout the session, issues related to housing will also likely extend well beyond state funding.
In recent years, industry and advocacy organizations have brought a variety of proposals to the state legislature intended to examine the impact that state, municipal, and other local government regulations have on the cost of new housing construction. This session, legislators are likely to examine proposals related to local zoning and density, development permitting and fees, and local design and aesthetic mandates as they look to bring down the cost of new housing construction and increase the stock of market-rate housing in the state. Legislators will also focus on a variety of workforce-related proposals intended to increase and diversify participation in the building trades. While most of these proposals are likely to be multi-year initiatives, the focus on housing affordability and workforce are likely to be central to most land use and development discussions at the Capitol.