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A proposal to funnel nearly $1 billion into dozens of Minnesota’s roads and bridges, campus buildings, local amenities and other construction projects is “inadequate,” its own sponsor said Tuesday, but going bigger would brush up against political realities at the Capitol.
“I would say there’s one defining word to describe this bill: inadequate,” said Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, of this year’s bonding bill. “There are many areas in this bill that don’t reach the level we need to.”
Still, Hausman said she was able to include a number of important priorities: $175 million for the University of Minnesota, $139 million for Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, $147 million for grants to local governments to spend on civic centers and other projects, $50 million to replace bridges and rebuild roads, $41 million to remodel the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter, and $20 million for affordable housing.
A hefty capital investments bill typically is the marquee feature of even-year legislative sessions, but it is also tricky to pass because it usually takes votes from both parties to achieve the legislative supermajority needed to increase the state’s debt load.
With Gov. Mark Dayton also proposing just under $1 billion in total bonding, and Senate DFLers planning to follow suit, the House DFL proposal clears the way for an orderly end to the legislative session.
“I think you’re going to see a lot of people on the same page,” said Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, the bonding chief in the Senate. Stumpf said he hoped to release the Senate’s bill next week.
The House’s capital improvements wish list takes funds from two sources. It would raise $850 million from the sale of state construction bonds and fund another $125 million in projects with cash from the state’s budget surplus.
GOP leaders struck a handshake deal with DFLers last year that the state would bond for no more than $850 million in projects. There is no such bipartisan accord on the $125 million of cash bonding.
Hausman said her own preference would have been a bill closer to $1.5 billion, but she was under direction from House DFL leadership to work within a $1 billion framework. Most of the projects on the list have been included in previous bonding proposals, including one that failed last year on the House floor for lack of Republican support.
Rep. Matt Dean, the House Republican lead on bonding, withheld comment on the project list in Hausman’s bill. But he said there is a desire among House Republicans to vote for a bonding bill this year.
“We’d like a bill that half our caucus could vote for, and that’s something we could work toward,” said Dean, of Dellwood.
Of the $175 million in Hausman’s bill for the University of Minnesota, more than $100 million would go to two projects on the Twin Cities campus: A renovation and planetarium project at the Bell Museum of Natural History and an upgrade for the Tate Laboratory of Physics.
The $147 million in local grants includes $4.5 million for the planned Nicollet Mall redesign in Minneapolis, $14 million for an expansion and renovation of the Minnesota Children’s Museum in St. Paul, $30 million for an expansion of the Mayo Civic Center in Rochester, $14 million to expand the city’s civic center at Minnesota State University, Mankato, and $11.5 million to expand River’s Edge Convention Center in St. Cloud.
Dayton has most of the same projects on his proposal list, although the dollar amounts in some cases differ. For example, Dayton did not include money for the Bell Museum upgrade.
In arguing that the overall size of the bonding bill is not sufficient, Hausman noted that the Legislature first passed bonding bills approaching $1 billion in the late 1990s.
“If the inflation factor were added, we would be writing a bill of $1.5 billion,” Hausman said. “That billion is sort of our psychological barrier.”