For the third year in a row, Gov. Mark Dayton is putting out a multimillion dollar wish list for new construction projects around the state — this time to a Legislature controlled by his own party.
Anticipating a friendly Legislature, Dayton has revived a stack of projects squeezed out of past bonding bills, including a massive overhaul of the century-old State Capitol and millions more for civic centers, an $85 million physics lab for the University of Minnesota, roads and bridges, veterans, prisons, campuses, mental health services, sewage treatment plants, affordable housing, parks and trails and sculpture gardens. There’s even money tucked in for the snow monkey exhibit at the Minnesota Zoo.
“There are a lot of really vitally needed projects that had to be left out” of last year’s scaled-down $500 million bonding bill, Dayton said Monday as he rolled out his request. “Given the backlog from previous governors’ vetoes and from lack of legislative support the last years, there’s just a huge need for it.”
After two years of Republican majorities shaving down his requests, Dayton this year may face a different problem: DFLers who view his proposal as an opening bid. On Tuesday the House expects to roll out an $800 million bill that is likely to include most of Dayton’s proposals — and more.
Dayton said his proposal could generate as many as 21,000 jobs at a time when community need is high and interest rates are low.
Republicans are now in the minority, but they could still put a crimp in Dayton’s plans. Unlike budget bills, bonding bills require a supermajority to pass. This year that means as few as eight Republicans in the House and three in the Senate could block a bonding bill.
The GOP’s initial reaction was chilly.
“This is excessive,” said Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie. “This is out of control and it is not necessary and we don’t support it.”
Dayton’s proposal includes $109 million to restore the aging Capitol, $20 million to reconstruct Nicollet Avenue in downtown Minneapolis, $14 million to double the size of St. Paul’s Children’s Museum, $63 million for civic center expansions in Rochester, Mankato and St. Cloud, and $25 million to improve the roads around a former ammunition plant that Arden Hills once hoped would be the new home for the Vikings stadium.
Breakdown of proposal
In all, Dayton is proposing $812 million in projects, $750 million of which would be funded by general obligation bonds. Major chunks of spending including $57 million for veterans’ services, including an expansion of the Minneapolis Veterans Home; $54 million for mental health and treatment centers across the state and $20 million to make repairs of bridges. The Minnesota Zoo would get enough to renovate its Discovery Bay and snow monkey exhibit.
Dayton also is requesting $35 million for campus construction projects in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, $85 million to renovate the Tate Laboratory at the University of Minnesota and $32 million for new classrooms, research labs and other projects at Metro State University in St. Paul.
House Capitol Investment Chairwoman Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, said there will be a “lot of similarities” between her bill and Dayton’s proposal, particularly on familiar big-ticket items like the Capitol repairs, the civic centers and funding for some of the larger college construction projects and for the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter.
But Hausman thinks she has enough statewide projects to win over the GOP votes she needs for passage.
“I have a bill that is very kind to between 12 and 20 people” in the other party, Hausman said with a laugh.
There are some differences. While Dayton is requesting $50 million for the veterans home, Hausman is calling for a hold on the funds until the state can come up with a better plan to house its needy veterans. Dayton’s request would fund only 100 beds in Minneapolis, she said, and the state needs a better, community-based system.
Rep. Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, the lead Republican on the Capital Investment Committee, issued a statement calling the governor’s request “disappointing.”
“This continues a disturbing pattern from Democrats who seem to be competing to see who can raise taxes higher and spend the most money,” he wrote. “This is out-of-control government at its worst.”
Hann said he would support a bonding bill next year, in its proper place in the legislative cycle, and only for projects that provide real value to the state. Putting a bonding bill in a budget year, he said, leads to far too much “horse trading.”
Aging State Capitol
The biggest ticket item on the governor’s wish list is the $109 million request to fund repairs to the aging State Capitol, where workers have wrapped scaffolding around large chunks of the north face of the building to repair the crumbling facade. If the repairs aren’t done now, the Capitol could be swathed in scaffolding for decades as repairs continue piecemeal, warned Spencer Cronk, commissioner of the Department of Administration, which is overseeing the Capitol renovation.
If the funds are approved, the plan is to oust the Capitol inhabitants and complete massive renovations in one big push. Right now, Cronk said, the Capitol’s stone is deteriorating, its pipes are leaking, it lacks proper ventilation and the wiring is shot.
“We are certainly at a tipping point,” Cronk said. “This building has reached a point in its life where restoration is critical to extend the life of the building and reduce spending for the next hundred years.”