Gov. Mark Dayton on Tuesday proposed an expansive bonding bill to spruce up Nicollet Mall, build a new home for the St. Paul Saints, repair buildings at the state's colleges and universities, expand light rail and overhaul correctional facilities.
The result, Dayton said, would be a boon of job creation and economic development that could inject new life into struggling communities.
"These public investments create private-sector jobs," said Dayton, who said his proposal could create as many as 21,500 jobs in the state. "These are exactly the jobs we all say we want to increase in Minnesota. Well, here's our chance."
Picking apart the DFL governor's $775 million borrowing bill, detailed for the first time Tuesday, will be a premiere political sport of the 2012 session, which starts next week.
Almost immediately, Republican leaders lined up to criticize the idea of borrowing money to create jobs. They'll offer their own -- smaller -- project list in the coming weeks.
Senate Majority Leader David Senjem, R-Rochester, said in a statement that "Rather than using debt as a jobs plan, Minnesota would be much better served if the governor turned his attention to creating a positive tax and regulatory climate in which job creators were more confident about expanding and investing in." Senjem also chairs the Senate Capitol Investment Committee. He was traveling on his own bonding tour Tuesday.
Under Dayton's plan, Senjem's hometown would get $35 million to renovate the Mayo Civic Center in downtown Rochester -- a project Senjem has pursued for years. Dayton said he selected the project not because it was in the new majority leader's district, but because he believes using state money to revitalize downtowns is a good investment.
Rep. Larry Howes, a Walker Republican and Senjem's House committee counterpart, said his caucus wants about half of the projects Dayton listed. Among them, almost $30 million for the men's prison in St. Cloud and $27 million for a new Saints ballpark in Lowertown.
Howes said the House borrowing proposal could come by March and would probably carry half the price tag of Dayton's.
Howes cast doubt on some of Dayton's projects. Paying to fix up the Nicollet Mall and earmarking more money for light rail might not "pass muster" with House Republicans, Howes said.
The Southwest Corridor would be the metro area's third leg of light rail. It has the support of the Minneapolis, St. Paul and TwinWest chambers of commerce and would link Eden Prairie to downtown Minneapolis.
A $1.5 billion impact
The governor's list ranged from the massive to the parochial, but falls slightly short of the $1 billion-per-year bonding target he set for himself while campaigning for office.
Dayton's total bonding package is $903 million, once highway trunk bonds and other types of bonds are included. His proposal points out that because his plan would pull in about $580 million of local, federal and private matches, it would leverage nearly $1.5 billion in long-term investments for the state.
Among other, less high-profile investments, Dayton would use $25 million to buy and refurbish foreclosed properties around the state and $20 million for flood mitigation. The proposal also includes $26 million to build a new State Emergency Operations Center located within the Minnesota National Guard's Arden Hills Army training site. The site is part of the old Twin Cities Ammunition Plant, a portion of which is under consideration for a new Vikings football stadium.
Dayton's proposal mixes niceties and necessities: There's $7 million to repair the moldy saltwater tank for the Minnesota Zoo's popular dolphin exhibit; $8.5 million to renovate Minneapolis's Sculpture Garden; $27.6 million to start fixing up the state Capitol and adjoining tunnel to "replace things that are otherwise going to fall on someone's head," Dayton said.
The Nicollet Mall project was at the top of Minneapolis' wish list to the governor. City officials and downtown business leaders have $58 million worth of lofty dreams to eliminate the mall's curbs, redesign building facades and extend the pedestrian walkway to the Mississippi River.
"There are so many economic interests rooted right on the Nicollet Mall," said Sarah Harris, chief operating officer of the Downtown Improvement District.
Not all requests were fulfilled. The University of Minnesota wanted $209 million, but would get about half that under Dayton's plan.
Dayton said he's not wedded to any single project and is prepared to talk to Republicans about their priorities.
"All of these are negotiable; that's the process," Dayton said. "It has to be a bipartisan collaboration."
To kickstart the state's economy, Dayton wants a bonding agreement with the Legislature by the end of February. Last year's bill was not done until July, in special session.
To point up the job-creation aspect of Dayton's bill, hard-hatted construction workers flanked the governor at Tuesday's news conference.
Jim Schowalter, commissioner of Minnesota Management and Budget, says the state doesn't have the expertise to come up with exact job-creation numbers, and bases its estimates on national figures. "It's a matter of estimates and competing estimates," he said. "I think the bottom line is there is an impact on the state from bonding."
Construction workers say they need the hope the capital investment proposal offers.
"In construction, you're always for the next job," said carpenter Tim Stender, who has been out of work since Thanksgiving and brought his 5-year-old son, Mitch, to the news conference. "From the day you get on that site to the day you leave, you're always looking for the next construction job."
Stender said his brother is working now at a job created by last year's bonding bill -- a new science building at the University of Minnesota.
Staff writer Eric Roper contributed to this report. Jennifer Brooks • 651-925-5049
• $27 million for new St. Paul Saints ballpark that would also host amateur sports
• $25 million to renovate Minneapolis' Nicollet Mall
• $27 million to expand Minneapolis Veterans Home
• $25 million for Southwest Corridor light rail