There’s a $47.5 million pot of money sitting out there, waiting to be claimed by a few lucky communities, and Gov. Mark Dayton, for one, thinks it’s a terrible idea.
The Legislature agreed to borrow $496 million this year to fund construction and infrastructure improvement projects around the state. For the first time, the bonding included an almost $50 million lump sum directed to the Department of Employment and Economic Development to award as grants.
“I’ve never seen it done before this way and I don’t think it’s well advised and I think this will prove why it’s not,” Dayton told reporters Thursday. “It’s sort of a back-door way of projects that were denied by the legislature and now they’re all descending upon DEED, and understandably so.”
The Legislature has put DEED in “a very, very awkward situation,” Dayton said. Not surprisingly, every community that didn’t get funding through the bonding bill is eyeing the DEED windfall – St. Paul wants to tap the fund to build a new minor league ballpark, Rochester wants it for civic center construction, the local chambers of commerce want to see the Southwest light rail corridor break down.
“I’m the recipient of a lot of other people’s wish lists,” said Dayton, who estimates his administration will get 10 times more requests for grants than it will have money to spend.
Senate spokesman Steve Sviggum said breaking off a pot of money for the executive branch to award "was a very prudent and reasonable approach." It's getting harder and harder to get projects like ballparks and civic centers into bonding bills.
"This was a new way to approach earmarking," Sviggum said. "From Washington, DC, to here, people are very concerned about special earmarks, special interests -- 'I want this so you should give it to me.' Let's make some strong, sound economic decision. It's worth a try."
Dayton said he will meet with DEED at the beginning of next week to hammer out how DEED will solicit grant applications and make a final decision about who will get the money. The agency hopes to award the grants this summer.