The Mayo Clinic’s boast that it could have its pick of 49 other states isn’t winning it a lot of fans in this one.

On Tuesday, Mayo CEO Dr. John Noseworthy said that if the Minnesota Legislature didn’t want to give the clinic half a billion dollars in tax breaks to support its plan for a $5 billion makeover of downtown Rochester, "there are 49 states that would like us to invest in them." On Wednesday, Mayo representatives went before the House Taxes committee to discuss the bill, and face the music.

“It was a dumb thing to say. It was dumb, dumb, dumb,” state Rep. John Lesch, DFL-St. Paul, chided the Mayo delegation. “Your CEO [was] going to the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.., and wagging a finger at the Minnesota Legislature. That’s what it looked like to me. I read that article and I was thoroughly disgusted.”

Noseworthy’s remarks, Lesch said, make him less inclined to vote for the bill.

“My support went from neutral and considering and after seeing that article, it plummeted,” he said.

Mayo was already facing a tough sell for its bill at the State Legislature, where lawmakers were questioning the sheer size of the request and the funding mechanisms Mayo was proposing. Bill sponsor Rep. Kim Norton, DFL-Rochester, said the bill is being retooled into a “Plan B” proposal that she will present next week.

“Forty-nine states would love to have the Mayo Clinic,” she said. “We’re lucky to be the one that does. Hopefully we can keep it here.”

Mayo physician and spokesman Dr. Brad Narr said, “I’m on a hot seat because my CEO talked about 49 states this morning.”

If the bill doesn’t pass, Mayo likely won’t pull up stakes and leave. But the healthcare giant also operates sprawling campuses in Jacksonville, Fla., and Phoenix, Ariz., and it might decide to turn its future growth plans to the Sun Belt states where so many of its patients already live. After all, he noted, “there are a lot more organs to transplant in Florida.”

“This will help us grow in Minnesota,” he said, noting that none of the $500 million would go to Mayo, just to support development projects in the community over the next 30 years. “I don’t want to think, what-if. I cannot threaten this group and say, if-this, then-that. No. I want the Mayo Clinic to grow in Minnesota.”


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