The infrastructure-laden bonding proposal must navigate gantlet of GOP lawmakers leery of increasing state’s debt.
Gov. Mark Dayton wants Minnesota to fund $1 billion in construction projects across the state to bolster civic centers, theaters, college and university buildings and roads.
The costliest projects on the capital improvements wish list that the governor released Wednesday include $126 million to finish restoration of the deteriorating State Capitol, $56 million to remodel the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter and $29 million for Arden Hills to rebuild roads around a former ammunition plant. Dayton, a DFLer, also wants $50 million for what he said would be the state’s largest bonding investment in affordable housing.
“This jobs bill would address many of our state’s critical infrastructure needs, while strengthening our economy and getting more people back to work,” Dayton said.
The administration has estimated that if all projects were included, the proposal would generate about 27,000 jobs.
Over the next four months, legislators will bring Dayton’s proposal into focus, and come up with their own lists, in an attempt to create a bipartisan borrowing measure. DFLers control the House and Senate, but bonding bills require supermajorities that will need Republican votes.
Lawmakers already have spent months crisscrossing the state to evaluate city, county and school projects.
Some of the ambition may be constrained by finances. While the state’s fiscal picture is improving, it is not yet clear how much legislators are willing to add to the state’s debt load. Last year, lawmakers thwarted Dayton’s desire to borrow $750 million for building projects. Instead, they passed a $176 million bill, most of which went to start the State Capitol’s multiyear renovation.
Many of the projects on Dayton’s wish list this year are making return appearances, having been proposed and rejected in previous years.
Republicans made clear on Wednesday that even at first glance, Dayton’s ideas this year are too rich for their liking.
“It’s too big and also, I think, reflects the wrong priorities,” said Rep. Matt Dean, R-Dellwood. Dean, the lead Republican on the House Capitol Investment Committee. Any borrowing plan should focus on fixing what the state already has, he said.
DFLer leaders were far more welcoming of Dayton’s recommendations.
“The money listed in the governor’s bonding proposals will go a long way toward strengthening both the infrastructure and the economy in our state,” said Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, chairman of the Senate Capital Investment Committee.
Dayton said he did not consult DFL or Republican lawmakers in assembling his plan, nor did he consider what political districts housed the projects he picked.
On Wednesday, Dayton criticized the Republicans who led the Legislature in 2010 and 2011 as “right-wing extremists” for their lack of support for statewide building.
“It is unfortunate that Governor Dayton, as he has done in the past, chooses to indulge in name-calling rather than engaging constructively with Republicans,” said Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie. “Our priorities will be roads and bridges, critical infrastructure, public safety and maintaining buildings we already own.”
Dayton suggested that Republicans were shortsighted in their lack of support for the downtown improvement projects he has long proposed funding.
“I was just frankly astonished that the majorities in the Minnesota Senate and House were unresponsive to the needs of downtown cities, especially in our major state and regional centers,” Dayton said, referring to the bonding session of 2012, when Republicans controlled the House and Senate.
This year, Dayton proposed borrowing $37 million for a civic center in Rochester, $20 million to revitalize Minneapolis’ Nicollet Mall, $14.5 million to add to the Mankato civic center and $14 million for a long-sought expansion of the Children’s Museum in downtown St. Paul. Heavily DFL Duluth and Republican-leaning St. Cloud also would see state money to help their downtown projects under Dayton’s plan.
The governor’s proposed $29 million for roads and bridges around the munitions plant in Arden Hills would give that Ramsey County project nearly as much as all other bridge repair projects statewide. State help would be a consolation prize of sorts: Local officials and the Minnesota Vikings had agreed in 2011 to build a new stadium on the 430-acre site. Ultimately, that site was discarded in favor of a stadium where the Metrodome now stands.
Arden Hills and Ramsey County are working on a multiyear project to prepare the site for development, which includes ridding it of a costly, years-old buildup of pollutants left behind by the ammunition plant.
Dean said the size of Dayton’s proposed Arden Hills investment “stuck out to me as a little odd” and worthy of further exploration.
The governor also wants more than $150 million for improvements and 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’s research and laboratory improvement fund.
Included on that list: Money for bees. Amid fears that bee colonies are collapsing, the university asked the state for money to upgrade the facility that houses its 95-year-old honeybee research program.
“We had a lengthy discussion about the need to improve the conditions for the bees,” Dayton said with a laugh.
Dayton also proposed that the state borrow $54 million for such natural resource projects as forestation, native prairie conservative, parks and trail improvements — the same type of programs that could be paid for through so-called Legacy funds. The state Legacy Fund is a voter-approved sales tax increase designed to bolster state spending on the outdoors and nature.
Dayton’s package includes $946 million in general obligation bonds, another $40 million in Minnesota Housing Finance Agency bonds and other costs that bring the total to just more than $1 billion. The cost of borrowing would add an estimated $487 million in interest over the 20-year life of the bonds.
Dayton said that even if legislators approve the complete package, he would likely ask the state to borrow more the following year if voters send him back to the governor’s office.
“It’s become commonplace,” he said.
Staff writer Baird Helgeson contributed to this report.
Rachel E. Stassen-Berger Twitter: @RachelSB
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