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Bonding boost, bridge rededication part of military and veterans affairs bill

A veterans' rally in the Capitol Rotunda. (House Photography file photo)
A veterans' rally in the Capitol Rotunda. (House Photography file photo)

The House Veterans and Military Affairs Finance and Policy Committee did not have any money to work with when the session’s 2024 budget targets were released at the end of March.

But absent any spending, the committee did put together a bill on behalf of the two agencies under its jurisdiction — the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Military Affairs — and approved that bill, as amended, Tuesday, referring it to the House Ways and Means Committee.

Sponsored by Rep. Jerry Newton (DFL-Coon Rapids), the committee chair, HF5181 contains three provisions.

The first would triple the State Armory Building Commission’s bonding authority from $15 million to $45 million.

The commission is a group of military affairs officers, chaired by the adjutant general, authorized to sell bonds to raise the money needed to bring in federal funds to build armories.

House Veterans and Military Affairs Finance and Policy Committee 4/16/24

Don Kerr, executive director of the Department of Military Affairs, said the commission was originally given that authority in 1949 and the bonding cap has been raised several times over the years, most recently in 2000.

“The challenge that we have is the cost of construction has increased exponentially,” Kerr said. “… Increasing to $45 million is the appropriate level that we think should be out there. That would give the opportunity to match federal funding and continue to build new armories in Minnesota as those opportunities come up.”

A second provision in the bill would rededicate what is commonly called the Mendota Bridge —where Highway 62 crosses the Minnesota River — as the Gopher Gunners Memorial Bridge in honor of the Minnesota National Guard’s 151st Field Artillery Regiment.

The bridge was originally dedicated to the unit, which fought in World War I as part of the “Rainbow Division” commanded by Maj. Gen. Douglas McArthur, when it opened in 1926.

Kerr said there is a small plaque on each end of the bridge commemorating that dedication that can only be seen by pedestrians and bikers. But with construction work on the bridge ongoing, members of the division thought new signage could be put up.

The bill’s final provision would allow funding for veterans homes already appropriated for fiscal year 2025 to be used in fiscal year 2024 should that be needed.

Newton said plans are for the House Ways and Means Committee to merge this bill with the state and local government finance and policy bill to better align the language with a Senate bill.

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