Dayton wants legislators to toss aside self-imposed bonding cap

  • Article by: ABBY SIMONS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 2, 2014 - 9:51 PM

There’s room to spend more on state projects, he assures leaders.

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Gov. Mark Dayton urged the state House and Senate to loosen the budget purse strings in order to fund more public works projects.

Photo: GLEN STUBBE • gstubbe@startribune.com,

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Gov. Mark Dayton urged Minnesota lawmakers to bust past their self-imposed, bipartisan ceiling on funding public works statewide.

Dayton said Wednesday that the Legislature should not feel obliged to stay within an $850 million bonding limit informally agreed to last year.

“My opinion on that is rescind the agreement,” Dayton said. “There’s certainly capacity to go higher than that.”

The House on Tuesday released a $975 million public works package that includes $850 million of bonding and $125 million of cash for additional projects. Dayton is cool to the cash-for-bonding proposal.

“I’ve said to both leaders in the House and Senate that we don’t use cash for bonding bills because that’s the whole purpose of bonding, you put cash down and expand the scope of projects dramatically,” said Dayton, who last month presented his own $986 million bonding proposal. “Putting cash into a bonding bill to me is antithetical to the whole purpose of that enterprise.”

But pushing past the $850 million limit could turn the bonding bill into a partisan brawl in the remaining weeks of the session.

Republicans say they had a handshake agreement with DFL leaders at the end of last year’s session to stay within the $850 million limit.

DFLers hold majorities in the House and Senate, but the bonding bill requires a supermajority that makes Republicans needed players and could give them valuable leverage on other bills.

House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said Republicans will provide the brake.

“It should not surprise us that Democrats not only want to tax and spend more, but borrow more than we should,” he said. “Unfortunately for them they need a few of our votes and it comes down to us having to be the adults on this.”

Hausman earlier this week called her own bill “inadequate” and added Wednesday that she agrees with Dayton’s criticism, saying her original $1.24 billion bonding bill had to be slashed because of the agreed-upon cap. She too agrees that the cap should be done away with, and said the way to do that is if Minnesota residents speak up.

“There are so, so many reasons we should have a little more vision, a little more courage,” Hausman said.

She said she preferred a bill closer to $1.5 billion, but was ordered by 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.

Dayton also expressed concern that the bill includes only $20 million for Capitol renovations as opposed to his recommended $126 million. Dayton said the Department of Administration needs $125 million in hand soon to fulfill necessary construction contracts. There, he would support using cash to meet that deadline in order to keep construction costs down.

Still, he said he’s troubled by other aspects of the House proposal, which includes $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.

In some aspects, Dayton said, it isn’t enough.

“I’ve tried for three years now in my bonding proposals to get money for significant upgrades to St. Peter Security Hospital [and] the [Minnesota] Sex Offender Program,” he said. It “really is truly decrepit and the Legislature has refused to support either one of those. There are some things like that I think are absolutely necessary and hopefully we’ll work that out.”

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