Baird Helgeson and Rachel E. Stassen-Berger
Gov. Mark Dayton is seeking nearly $1 billion in new state-backed construction projects, offering money for civic centers, higher education buildings and enough to finish restoration of the aging Capitol.
“My proposals will put thousands of Minnesotans to work throughout our state,” Dayton said Wednesday. Many projects have been delayed for years, he said, and are “crucial to revitalizing downtown business centers” college campuses, classrooms and other state needs.
Dayton’s list includes civic center expansions in Mankato, St. Cloud and Rochester, along with the a revitalization of Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis and a long-sought expansion of the Children’s Museum in downtown St. Paul.
The governor also wants more than $150 million for improvements and better infrastructure at Minnesota State Colleges and Universities. He is seeking more than $68 million to renovate the University of Minnesota’s Tate Science and Teaching building and pay for the U of M’s research and laboratory improvement fund.
The proposal includes roughly $250 million for clean drinking water projects, remodeling the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter and a host of other economic development and veterans initiatives.
Dayton is asking lawmakers to sell bonds for about $986 million to pay for the projects, which is more than many lawmakers were expecting.
The state’s rebounding economy and strong budget outlook offers the state a little extra money if leaders want to increase borrowing in the budget cycle. A recent report by Moody’s Investors Service praised the state for its relatively modest debt load.
Dayton's proposal is likely to be far too rich for Republicans, who have pushed for far more modest borrowing packages.
Dayton has said the state billions in backlogged projects that they need to start moving forward on.
The DFL governor said he was disappointed that Democrats who control both chambers in the Legislature didn’t approve more projects last year, instead passing a stripped down proposal that only paid for the first portion of the Capitol renovation.
Democrats can’t do it alone, however. Bonding proposals require a super majority of votes in both chambers, which means Democrats need a handful of Republican votes if they plan to pass any borrowing proposal.
The governor said that he did not consult with Republican lawmakers as he put together his bill, nor did he consider what political districts the projects he picked were in.
On Wednesday, he criticized Republicans who led the Legislature in 2010 and 2011 as "right wing extremists" and suggested they were shortsighted if they did not support the important projects he proposed funding.
"Today's wish list is another example of Governor Dayton asking hardworking Minnesotans to overpay for things they would never buy for their families or small businesses," said Rep. Matt Dean, R-Dellwood.
The Democratic lead on capital borrowing issues was more enthusiastic.
"This is an excellent start to the conversation and it’s extremely encouraging the governor has included many projects that have been in the queue for some time," said Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul. She is responsible for putting together the House list of borrowing projects and getting it passed with a super majority.
Even before Dayton finished unveiling his proposal, supporters were heaping praise on the projects that made the cut.
“Governor Dayton has shown consistent support for projects that create jobs and have statewide impact. His proposed 2014 bonding bill is no exception,” St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman said. “The included Saint Paul projects—improvements at Como Zoo, an expansion of the Children’s Museum, and the renovation of the Palace Theatre – are crucial projects that will develop culture and education for all Minnesotans.”
See Gov. Dayton's proposal here: