The Legislature finished up one of its remaining major tasks on Friday morning when the Senate passed a $1.17 billion package of state-backed construction projects and sent it to Gov. Mark Dayton.
The largest project in the package is $126 million in state bonds to finish the ongoing renovation of the State Capitol.
The measure also includes $240 million in building and renovation projects on state college and university campuses. The Tate Laboratory of Physics at the University of Minnesota gets $56.7 million of that pot.
Also a part of the bonding bill is $113 million for roads, bridges and transportation projects; $100 million to beef up affordable housing options around the state; $61 million for civic center projects in Rochester, St. Cloud and Mankato; $56 million to renovate the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter; $22 million to continue work on the Lewis and Clark water pipeline project in southwestern Minnesota; $21 million to renovate Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis; $14 million for an expansion and renovation of the Children's Museum in St. Paul; $12 million for projects at the Minnesota Zoo; and a range of other projects.
Money for the projects came in two chunks: $86 million in state borrowing, and an additional $200 million in cash. The Senate approved the bonding portion by a vote of 47-17 and the cash portion by a vote of 44-19, both with bipartisan support.
Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, said it would be easy for lawmakers to nitpick the bill's final mix of projects. But he praised the measure for spreading projects around the state. Senjem singled out the inclusion of money for the civic center projects, all of which had long been pursued by lawmakers from those three cities.
"Finally, at least, civic centers in three major regional centers across Minnesota will be completed," Senjem said.
Gov. Mark Dayton has been a strong advocate of a hefty construction bill, although he declined to sign off on a deal with legislative leaders who wanted assurances that the governor would not use his veto pen to trim specific projects from the list.
The Minnesota State Capitol, Minnesotans needing affordable housing and higher education institutions will see some of the most profound transformations as part of a $1.17 billion package of state-backed construction projects.
The Minnesota House overwhelmingly passed the measure early Friday morning and it now goes to the Senate for final approval.
The measure includes $126 million to finish the State Capitol renovation – the single-largest item in the package.
“Bonding bills have many good things in them, and many things that are less good,” said state Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City. He said that for him, the Capitol renovation outweighs the things he finds less desirable.
Legislators set aside $240 million for new and renovated buildings at the state’s higher education institutions, including money for the Tate Laboratory of Physics at the University of Minnesota and a clinical sciences facility at Minnesota State University, Mankato.
The agreement includes $100 million for affordable housing, the largest housing investment in state history. Community leaders from around Minnesota have pleaded with state officials for more housing, saying the limited supply is holding back growth in their regions.
Legislators want $56 million to renovate the Minnesota Security Hospital, a psychiatric facility in St. Peter. They also want nearly $30 million for the Department of Corrections, including a perimeter fence at the correctional center in Shakopee, coming less than a year after an inmate escaped from the facility.
Democrats included $22 million for the Lewis and Clark Regional Water System, a multistate project to pipe water from South Dakota to a handful of southwestern Minnesota communities with unreliable water supplies.
Lawmakers have also agreed to allow local communities to borrow money to pay for the remainder of the $69 million project. The state will increase aid to local communities to pay a large share of the local debt load.
The state is paying for convention center expansions in Rochester, Mankato and St. Cloud, projects that have been passed over for years.
The measure includes money to redevelop Nicollet Mall, expand the Minnesota Children’s Museum in St. Paul and renovate Duluth’s historic NorShor Theatre.
Minnesota Zoo will get $12 million from the state, including $5 million for Heart of the Zoo II and the rest in asset preservation and new exhibits.
The House overwhelmingly passed the $846 million borrowing portion by a vote of 92-40. An additional $200 million in cash passed a short time later, 82-50.
Legislative leaders who negotiated the construction package asked Gov. Mark Dayton to sign a letter pledging not to veto any of the projects.
He replied with a last-minute list of his own requirements, including passage of a government reform measure, a provision that requires disclosure of toxic chemicals in children’s products and a handful of other provisions.
Negotiations continued early Friday morning and Dayton had yet to sign the letter.
Gov. Mark Dayton’s staffers were walking around the Capitol around midnight passing out a list of last-minute items the governor was insisting upon as legislators finished the final measures of the session.
The governor's staff released the list after legislative leaders asked the governor to sign a letter guaranteeing he would not veto the $1.17 billion package of state construction projects, which was painstakingly negotiated between DFL and GOP leaders.
Dayton is seeking passage of a government streamlining measure regarding rule making.
Dayton is also seeking passage of the the 2014 Toxic Free Kids Act, which would require manufacturers to disclose presence of toxic chemicals in toys, school supplies and personal care products. The measure has endured a wave of opposition from the business community.
The governor is also pipeline safety requirements and an assessment on pipelines.
Dayton also wants $500,000 to pay for sober schools.
The governor is also demanding tougher dog and cat breeding laws, along with $310,000 in 2015 to implement the changes.
Advocates have been pressing for tougher regulations for commercial breeding facilities through licensing, inspection and enforcement of commercial breeding facilities. They are also seeking civil and criminal penalties for breeders that break the law.
The governor also instructed legislators not to pass a measure that would ban the state from imposing sprinkler requirements in larger, new homes.
The Minnesota House overwhelmingly passed a plan to make small changes to the state’s pension systems.
The House passed the measure on a mostly partisan vote of 79 to 52.
Rep. Mary Murphy, a Hermantown Democrat who chairs State Government Finance and Veterans Affairs Committee, said the measure will improve the state’s pensions and bring them closer to being fully funded.
The Duluth teachers’ pension will be folded into a larger state pension fund, costing taxpayers $15 million a year. Declining student enrollment and fewer teachers make the Duluth pensions no longer sustainable, according to an analysis.
“It is fraught with problems,” said Rep. Mike Benson, R-Rochester. He said the measure increases the risk of “a train wreck down the road” and wants a tougher look at pensions.
Minnesota legislators have agreed to more than $1 billion in new state-backed buildings and construction projects, placing new buildings, housing and economic development initiatives in every corner of the state.
The agreement breaks a major deadlock in the closing days of the session as Democrats and Republicans had not been able to agree on the right mix of state-backed projects.
“We have worked hard to put together a statewide bonding bill that makes strategic investments that will create thousands of jobs and support the continued growth of Minnesota’s economy,” said Rep. Alice Hausman, a DFLer from St Paul who helped broker the deal. “This bill will benefit Minnesotans across the state at a time when our economy is continuing to improve.”
The measure includes $126 million to finish the State Capitol renovation and another $240 million for new and renovated buildings at the University of Minnesota and the MnSCU system.
The agreement includes $100 million for roads and bridges and another $100 million for affordable housing, the largest housing investment in state history.
“I’m especially proud of the dollars for housing infrastructure, which are sorely needed across the state,” said Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer. “The bill also includes a robust investment in roads and economic development, which go hand in hand—our transportation infrastructure must keep pace with our growing economy.”
The measure calls for $846 million in state-backed bond debt and another $200 million in cash.
Legislators do not seek to borrow as much as DFL Gov. Mark Dayton wanted, but legislators stripped a provision he opposed that would have prohibited the state from requiring sprinklers in new homes.
The construction measure is a significant accomplishment of the legislative session, and will set in motion a rapid completion of the remaining budget and tax proposals that had been held up.
“We worked very hard to include a strong higher education component for colleges and universities statewide,” Stumpf said. “This bonding bill will enhance Minnesota and our quality of life for years to come, and I’m very optimistic we will cross the finish line in the coming days.”