How do you thank Minnesota taxpayers for a half-billion dollar gift?
Mayo Clinic does it with balloon bouquets, hand-lettered thank-you signs, and a choreographed cheering section.
"DMC! DMC!" happy Mayo staffers chanted Wednesday, after state lawmakers signed off on a plan to support Mayo's new Destination Medical Center project with some $585 million in state and local tax support over the next three decades. The cheers got louder as Gov. Mark Dayton and state lawmakers took the stage in Rochester to accept the thanks.
Dayton said passage of the "enormous, almost unprecedented" development project a "glorious day" for the state and the community. Other massive spending projects, like the Vikings stadium, took years, but the half-billion dollar Mayo bill passed in the space of a single session
"What a great day," said House Speaker Paul Thissen. The fact that the Legislature was able to sign off on such a massive project so quickly, he said, proves that "people working together and a community working together with the state government can actually accomplish something. I think that was a hallmark of what this last legislative session was about."
The Rochester celebration also drew Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk -- "What a difference an election makes," he told the crowd -- House Majority Leader Erin Murphy and members of the local delegation, including Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, and Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, who was the only Republican to vote for the Destination Medical Center plan after it was wrapped into a $2 billion tax bill.
The Mayo funds, wrapped into a $2 billion tax bill, will steer $585 million to Rochester to support infrastructure improvements around the new downtown development. The state will chip in $372 million over the next 27 years, but only after Mayo, the city of Rochester and Olmstead County make substantial investments of their own. Mayo has pledged billions to the project — $3.5 billion of its own money and another $2 billion in private investments.
"We're the land of 10,000 lakes and 14,000 physicians," joked Rep. Kim Norton, DFL-Rochester, who guided the Mayo bill through a rocky session. "I am so excited to see what happens next."
What happens next will be decided over the next few months. The Destination Medical Center's new governing board will come together and begin deciding which projects will be built first. No state tax dollars will flow until at least $200 million in private investment have been poured into the project.
The to-do list includes everything from expanding the Mayo campus to upgrading the downtown with new hotels, restaurants and cultural attractions.
The Mayo bill took a beating from skeptical lawmakers, particularly after Mayo CEO John Noseworthy warned that if Minnesota didn't come up with the money, there were 49 other states that would be happy to open their doors to Mayo. Dayton rose to Noseworthy's defense Wednesday.
"You got criticized unfairly for this. I get criticized unfairly by the Legislature every day" Dayton said. "But there are 49 other states that would really love to have this opportunity." As the crowd in the Mayo lobby applauded and laughed, he added, "It's the truth. We are incredibly fortunate to have Mayo here."
Noseworthy thanked lawmakers for doing what many thought could not be done -- passing the expensive, complex Destination Medical Center financing bill in a single session. And since the Legislature came through for Mayo, he said, Mayo plans to stay right here in Rochester.
"It's a great day to be a Minnesotan, a great day to call Rochester our home," Noseworthy said. "Based on this legislation, Mayo Clinic is prepared to invest in Minnesota, where we've been for 149 years, and now we'll be even stronger, for generations to come."