Rochester's year could be nigh.
Year after year, the city has been shut out when it appealed to the state for millions of dollars for a new civic center. But hope rose when local leaders met with their legislators Friday. Gov. Mark Dayton is promising another bonding bill in 2013, and Rochester's civic center is high on his wish list.
"There were a lot of happy faces in the room," Brad Jones, executive director of the Rochester Convention & Visitors Bureau, said after the bonding briefing. "We're going to keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best."
With a DFL governor and a DFL-controlled Legislature for the first time in decades, there are a lot of hopeful civic planners these days.
Rochester needs $35 million to $37 million to break ground on a Mayo Civic Center expansion that the city hopes will eventually draw more than $20 million a year in convention business. St. Cloud and Mankato also hope to break ground on civic centers. The Southwest LRT also found itself largely shut out of the 2012 bonding cycle.
In fact, there's such a large appetite for state bonding dollars that when the Legislature gave the Department of Economic Development just under $50 million in bonding dollars to distribute around the state, 90 applications poured in with $288 million worth of requests.
While bonding bills are usually reserved for even-year legislative sessions, Dayton wants another shot next year, and so does incoming House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis. Incoming House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, also signaled that passing a bonding bill in an off year isn't "off the table."
With the DFL in control, Thissen said historically low interest rates and the need to spur the economy make a new bonding bill more appealing. Since bonding bills require a super majority to pass, Thissen would have to get at least eight House Republicans.
Daudt said, however, that he'd like to see the budget work finished first before the Legislature tackles extras. Senate Minority Leader-elect David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, didn't reject the idea outright but did point to other bonding projects of recent years.
"In the last couple of years, including the Vikings stadium, there's about $2 billion of public works projects the Legislature has agreed to spend money on," Hann said. " ... Until we see the February forecast, I would suggest it is a little premature to talk about bonding and borrowing money."
State budget officials have said that the state has the capacity to sell nearly $1.3 billion in bonds for new roads, bridges and other state-backed projects over the next two years. Minnesota already has $6.9 billion in state-backed debt and another $2.6 billion in bonds that have been approved but not sold. That includes nearly $500 million in unissued debt for the new Vikings stadium.