How do you thank Minnesota taxpayers for a half-billion dollar gift?
Mayo Clinic does it with balloon bouquets, hand-lettered thank-you signs, and a choreographed cheering section.
"DMC! DMC!" happy Mayo staffers chanted Wednesday, after state lawmakers signed off on a plan to support Mayo's new Destination Medical Center project with some $585 million in state and local tax support over the next three decades. The cheers got louder as Gov. Mark Dayton and state lawmakers took the stage in Rochester to accept the thanks.
Dayton said passage of the "enormous, almost unprecedented" development project a "glorious day" for the state and the community. Other massive spending projects, like the Vikings stadium, took years, but the half-billion dollar Mayo bill passed in the space of a single session
"What a great day," said House Speaker Paul Thissen. The fact that the Legislature was able to sign off on such a massive project so quickly, he said, proves that "people working together and a community working together with the state government can actually accomplish something. I think that was a hallmark of what this last legislative session was about."
The Rochester celebration also drew Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk -- "What a difference an election makes," he told the crowd -- House Majority Leader Erin Murphy and members of the local delegation, including Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, and Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, who was the only Republican to vote for the Destination Medical Center plan after it was wrapped into a $2 billion tax bill.
The Mayo funds, wrapped into a $2 billion tax bill, will steer $585 million to Rochester to support infrastructure improvements around the new downtown development. The state will chip in $372 million over the next 27 years, but only after Mayo, the city of Rochester and Olmstead County make substantial investments of their own. Mayo has pledged billions to the project — $3.5 billion of its own money and another $2 billion in private investments.
"We're the land of 10,000 lakes and 14,000 physicians," joked Rep. Kim Norton, DFL-Rochester, who guided the Mayo bill through a rocky session. "I am so excited to see what happens next."
What happens next will be decided over the next few months. The Destination Medical Center's new governing board will come together and begin deciding which projects will be built first. No state tax dollars will flow until at least $200 million in private investment have been poured into the project.
The to-do list includes everything from expanding the Mayo campus to upgrading the downtown with new hotels, restaurants and cultural attractions.
The Mayo bill took a beating from skeptical lawmakers, particularly after Mayo CEO John Noseworthy warned that if Minnesota didn't come up with the money, there were 49 other states that would be happy to open their doors to Mayo. Dayton rose to Noseworthy's defense Wednesday.
"You got criticized unfairly for this. I get criticized unfairly by the Legislature every day" Dayton said. "But there are 49 other states that would really love to have this opportunity." As the crowd in the Mayo lobby applauded and laughed, he added, "It's the truth. We are incredibly fortunate to have Mayo here."
Noseworthy thanked lawmakers for doing what many thought could not be done -- passing the expensive, complex Destination Medical Center financing bill in a single session. And since the Legislature came through for Mayo, he said, Mayo plans to stay right here in Rochester.
"It's a great day to be a Minnesotan, a great day to call Rochester our home," Noseworthy said. "Based on this legislation, Mayo Clinic is prepared to invest in Minnesota, where we've been for 149 years, and now we'll be even stronger, for generations to come."
With just hours left in the session, and major bills still in limbo, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk fired a shot across the House's bow.
A video, posted by the nonpartisan Senate Media Service, went up on YouTube Monday evening, showing Bakk pointedly wondering when the House planned to send the Senate the tax and bonding bills. The legislative year ends at midnight.
The Senate DFL Caucus gleefully reposted a copy of the video on its own site, but yanked it down almost as quickly. The bonding debate in the House began shortly afterward.
The video shows an exchange between Bakk and Minority Leader David Hann, both pointedly wondering why there had been no messages from the House, as of 6:30 p.m., about pending legislation.
"We're waiting for the House to send us the tax bill," Bakk says in the minute-and-a-half-long video. "We sent them the bonding bill last night...They made a decision not to concur with the Senate, but what's interesting is that they didn't appoint conferees and send a message back to us."
The bonding bill is a sore spot between the DFL-controlled House and Senate. The House tried, and failed to pass an $800 million bonding bill last month. But some House members balked when the Senate sent a scaled-down $132 million bonding offer of its own to the House Sunday night.
The 2013 Minnesota legislative session is likely to come to a tidy but surprising end.
In the wee hours on Monday, the Minnesota Senate unanimously passed a $132 million borrowing bill for Capitol restoration and a capitol area parking facility. The Minnesota House has not adopted such a measure. Democratic and Republican leaders said they only learned about the borrowing plan as it was arising on the Senate floor.
The Senate also followed the House in passing a constitutional amendment that would take decisions on legislative pay out of lawmakers' hands and give them to a bipartisan appointed panel instead. Unlike in the House, the Senate measure had Republican as well as Democratic support Monday morning.
Voters will decide whether to adopt that measure in 2016.
Meanwhile, Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate reached deals to allow debate and passage of the final major measures left for the year -- which include funding for many state agencies -- by Monday at midnight, lawmakers’ deadline for getting their work done.
For the House, that work includes a final vote on a contentious measure to allow unionization of child care and home care workers.
While the unionization debate has taken hours and was slated for many more hours of Republican objections, House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, and House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said they would be able to conclude it quickly on Monday.
While Daudt and his members strongly oppose that measure, they will let up on the debate that had kept members at the Capitol through the night and into the next day Friday and Saturday.
"I think that we will probably work together throughout the day to make sure that we are treating each other well and respectfully and we are able to get the business done on time," said Daudt.
"We're working together," Thissen said, after he ended a floor session Monday at 3 a.m. The House will meet in session again on Monday at 11 a.m.
But the Senate and House were not working together so smoothly.
"We worked just on schedule over here. They worked on bonding," said Daudt.
He and Thissen both said they had no agreement to pass the $132 million bonding bill the Senate approved. Without House concurrence, that measure will not become law.
Bakk said the Senate vote on the measure proves, "there's strong support to keep these renovations in the Capitol going." The Minnesota Capitol is already covered in scaffolding and plans for renovation are well underway but lack money to continue without more state funding.
"It is up to (the House) now if they want to keep the renovations in the Capitol going or let it come to a halt," he said.
"This is just a thing that happened over here in the Senate," said Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie.
Like in the House, the Senate leaders agreed that they will not allow debate to drag on past their Monday midnight deadline.
"Senator Hann and I have an agreement that we will have a timely conclusion to this session," Bakk said. Monday during the day, the Senate is expected to approve the budget plan for state agencies as well as a $2 billion tax measure.
Part of that timely conclusion means that the Senate will not deal with an anti-bullying bill that had drawn attention and opposition.
"The Republicans promised a ten-hour filibuster," said bill sponsor Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis. "Ten hours which we don’t have, obviously."
"We were in the middle of a debate on bullying that our members, and many people in the state, frankly, don't think is needed and we don't like and we wanted to keep debating that," Hann said. “And we're getting down to the end of session.”
That measure would have expanded the state's law on bullying and, backers said, offered students more protection than currently exists.
"I'm very angry right now," Dibble said, as it was clear the measure would not become law this year. "It means (students) will have to endure another year of not feeling safe and supported in their own schools."
With just hours left in the regular session, legislative leaders started talking about reviving a slimmed down borrowing bill to fund state capital projects.
"We’re going to try and sit down with the Republican leaders today,” Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said late Sunday.
But as time ticked away, Republicans and Democrats had yet to come to any compromise.
“We don’t want to do a bonding bill so if you want us to do one, what’s the deal? Is there a deal? Is there something we can talk about that we would want?” said Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie. “It depends on what else would be part of that agreement.”
Bakk said lawmakers may try to cobble together a measure to spend about $300 million, which would include about $109 million to restore the ailing state Capitol, some flood mitigation projects and a few other items.
On Sunday, Republicans began conversations about what it would take to get that done.
"If they would take child care unionization off the table, I think that would be something that would interest us or at least get a bonding bill in play," said House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown. "If they want a bonding bill more than we do, it only makes sense that we would get something in return for it."
At midnight Sunday, Daudt said that Democrats had not offered Republicans anything specific in exchange for a borrowing bill nor had they negotiated specifics of what a theoretical borrowing bill would look like.
As the idea of reviving a borrowing bill was awash in the Capitol, a newly fixed up area of the Capitol tunnel sprung a leak with water pouring from the ceiling, filling tub after tub.
The leak itself worked its way on the House floor, as Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, referenced the potential to fix up the Capitol and made mention of the newly soggy basement. He warned members who might be thinking of walking into the tunnel of the watery mess, "due to the current state of our Capitol."
Adding to crumble-gate late Sunday, the Senate's voting board stopped working. That forced the Senate to take an unplanned break from debate on an anti-bullying bill. Staffers said the problem was fixable.
The Minnesota House began its debate on unionization of home health care workers and child care workers at 2 a.m. Sunday morning.
The debate is expected to last for a while. The Minnesota Senate debated the measure for 17 hours. The House has twice as many members as the Senate.
The measure brought hordes of supporters and opponents to the Capitol, who spent all of Saturday pressing their views.
Backers say the measure would simply let workers vote on whether to join a union.
"It does not create or form a union," said bill sponsor Rep. Michael Nelson, DFL-Brooklyn Park.
Opponents say it would force private workers to unionize.