Minnesotans needing affordable housing, communities seeking convention center expansions and the state’s higher education institutions are big winners in a new $1.1 billion package of state-backed construction projects.
DFL legislative leaders brokered the agreement behind closed doors this week, and expect to pass the measure in the next couple of days even though they have not yet nailed down some crucial Republican votes.
“We have worked hard to put together a statewide bonding bill that makes strategic investments that will create thousands of jobs and support the continued growth of Minnesota’s economy,” said Rep. Alice Hausman, a DFLer from St Paul who helped broker the deal. “This bill will benefit Minnesotans across the state.”
Senate Republicans have said they have enough votes for passage, but Republican House leaders are not embracing the agreement, which could be a problem when the bill comes up for a House vote on Thursday. State borrowing requires a supermajority for passage, which means DFL legislative leaders need all DFL votes, along with eight Republican votes in the House and two in the Senate.
“As of now, the votes are not there from our caucus to pass the bill,” said House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown. “The conversation is ongoing. … I don’t think we are super far away from what it will take to get support.”
However, House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said the new construction proposal fits within the framework of an agreement he made with Daudt last year.
“It totally conforms with the agreement and more than that. There are substantially more Republican projects than we agreed to last year,” Thissen said. The House Speaker said he believes Daudt ultimately will honor their agreement. Daudt, Thissen said, is “a man of his word.”
The measure includes $126 million to finish the State Capitol renovation and another $240 million for new and renovated buildings at the state’s higher education institutions.
DFLers want to spend a large share of that to renovate the Tate Laboratory of Physics at the University of Minnesota, build a science center at Metropolitan State University and a clinical sciences facility at Minnesota State University, Mankato.
The agreement includes $100 million for roads and bridges around the state and another $100 million for affordable housing, the largest housing investment in state history.
“I’m especially proud of the dollars for housing infrastructure, which are sorely needed across the state,” said Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, a DFLer from Plummer who helped broker the deal.
Legislators are seeking $56 million to renovate the Minnesota Security Hospital, a psychiatric facility in St. Peter. They also want nearly $30 million for the Department of Corrections, including a perimeter fence at the correctional center in Shakopee and a new intake facility at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in St. Cloud.
Borrowing proposals are more complex than most legislation, requiring an artful and sometimes surprising mix of deal-making to get the necessary votes from the minority party.
Democrats included $22 million for the Lewis and Clark Regional Water System, a multistate project to pipe water from South Dakota to a handful of Republican-leaning southwestern Minnesota communities with unreliable water supplies.
Advocates say $22 million is enough to extend the pipeline only to Luverne, but not enough to get water to nearby Worthington. Republicans have been particularly insistent on full Lewis and Clark funding.
Late Wednesday, legislators were still working out details of a funding plan, but said they hoped to be able to pay for a significant part of the project this session.
Long-sought convention center expansions in Rochester, St. Cloud and Mankato are also in the measure — projects that legislators hope will enhance economic development in those communities.
Legislators also set aside millions to build or enhance cultural amenities from Chatfield to Minneapolis and Duluth.
The measure includes money to redevelop Nicollet Mall, expand the Minnesota Children’s Museum in St. Paul and renovate Duluth’s historic NorShor Theatre.
To pay for all of this, the measure calls for $846 million in state-backed bond debt and another $200 million in cash.
Legislators do not seek to borrow as much as DFL Gov. Mark Dayton wanted, but they did strip out a provision he opposed that would have prohibited the state from requiring sprinklers in new, large-home construction.
The measure does not include $51 million for a renovation project at the U’s Bell Museum, a project Hausman has sought to fund for the last decade.
She said lawmakers removed the controversial proposal from the borrowing measure after university officials approached lawmakers and offered to have the school issue the bonds, provided the state provide enough additional money to cover the debt payments. A similar arrangement was used to build TCF Bank Stadium and several campus research facilities.
The construction measure is one of the last significant components of the legislative session, and its completion should set in motion a rapid completion of the remaining unfinished bills.
“This bonding bill will enhance Minnesota and our quality of life for years to come,” Stumpf said.
Staff writers Patrick Condon and Rachel E. Stassen-Berger contributed to this report.