Gov. Mark Dayton says he'll have the final say about where $47.5 million in economic development grants will go.
That pot of money, which the Legislature pulled out of this year's bonding bill and turned over to the Department of Employment and Economic Development to distribute -- has been the focus of intense interest around the state. DEED recieved 90 applications -- requesting a total of $288 million for local projects ranging from a new minor league ballpark for St. Paul to a curling rink upgrade for Hibbing.
The governor told reporters Wednesday that DEED will evaluate the applications and make recommendations, but the final decision will be his.
"No matter who decides and how they decide, you're going to end up saying no to a lot of really worthwhile projects that are very meritorious," Dayton said. "In hindsight, I think this will prove that this is not a wise process that has the Legislature circumvent its responsibility to make bonding decisions on behalf of the entire state."
The governor said the intense public interest in this small chunk of bonding money persuaded him that he will "very definitely" call for another bonding bill next year. This year, Dayton asked the Legislature for $775 million in bonding projects. Lawmakers approved just under $500 million worth.
"The Legislature came in $250 million short of what I had requested in the last session," he said
"It underscores again that these are really vital needs that put people to work, that would benefit communities in various ways," Dayton added. "It's just one of the tools that state government has -- and we don't have that many -- to stimulate the economy, get it to be more active and involved in creating jobs. To just turn our back on one-third of that opportunity by only giving two-thirds of the bonding level I requested was, in my judgment, a big mistake."
Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, proposed turning funds over to DEED as an experiment, to see whether the funding could be awarded to projects based on merit, rather than political clout. Both the governor and DEED Commissioner Mark Phillips criticized the move, saying the amount was too small, considering the demand.
DEED received 90 applications for the $47.5 million in economic development bonds. The funds wouldn't stretch far enough to pay for even two of the larger projects on the list -- $27 million to build a new ballpark for St. Paul, $25 million for the Rochester Civic Center, $25 million tor refurbish Nicollet Mall, $14 million for the Southwest light rail corridor -- never mind the smaller regional requests. It would cost $288 million to give every community its requested funding.
"With $288 million worth of requests, there'll be probably triple or quadruple the number of really good projects that are really needed and really benefit the affected communities and regions and obviously we only have $47.5 million," Dayton said.