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Architects rendering of proposed St. Paul Saints stadium.

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GOP offers $280M in bonding

  • Article by: BAIRD HELGESON
  • Star Tribune
  • March 20, 2012 - 9:27 PM

A showdown is looming at the State Capitol after House Republicans unveiled a bonding package dramatically lower than what Gov. Mark Dayton has proposed.

House Republicans want to spend $280 million, mostly to renovate college campuses, repair local bridges and improve state prisons. Republicans prefer maintaining existing buildings over constructing new ones.

"We have to be careful about what we put on the state's credit card," said Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover, vice chairwoman of the House Capital Investment Committee. "We don't have an infinite amount of money to pay off the debt from bonds, so we have to look really carefully what we put money into."

The House GOP proposal is far smaller than Dayton's $775 million package and spends less in nearly every area. The House package does include design money for a new St. Paul Saints ballpark and for the St. Cloud Convention Center and the International Center of Research and Technology in Austin, but ignored Dayton's request for a Nicollet Avenue renovation in Minneapolis and a Rochester civic center expansion.

Dayton has said his bonding proposal would provide needed infrastructure improvements while creating up to 20,000 jobs.

"This is a chance to put people back to work, but that doesn't seem to be a priority to them," Dayton said Tuesday, referring to the Republican-led House and Senate.

DFLers and Republicans have long fought over the size and scope of the bonding proposals, which are state borrowing packages historically approved in the middle of the state's two-year budget cycle. Bonding projects typically have statewide significance and frequently become bargaining chips as the governor and legislators try to negotiate an end to the legislative session.

DFLers like Dayton have pushed hard for a robust bonding package to resurrect the state's ailing construction industry, while Republicans generally prefer lower amounts to reduce the amount of debt.

Dayton said that the state budget already takes into account his recommended level of borrowing. Existing guidelines would allow the state to borrow up to nearly $2 billion, according to the Minnesota Management and Budget office.

House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said the GOP proposal underfunds nearly everything.

"It throws little bits of money to a bunch of projects -- that's not actually going to solve anything," Thissen said.

He said the Republican proposal makes odd choices, favoring a dolphin exhibit at the Minnesota Zoo over more critical projects at state colleges and universities.

"So they're choosing the dolphin tank over job creation," Thissen said. "It's really a poor, poorly crafted bill."

Republicans also propose borrowing an extra $220 million to renovate the aging Capitol, money that would be tapped over several years and bonding cycles. Dayton and Republicans have both supported a massive Capitol restoration.

Republicans say that when lumped together, their proposed spending is enough. They argued that just last summer they acceded to Dayton's insistence on a $500 million bonding proposal as part of the deal to end a three-week state government shutdown. Adding their newest proposals would push the state's two-year borrowing total close to $1 billion -- more than $200 million higher than the average for a two-year budget cycle.

"I think that is more than fair," said state Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker, chairman of the House Capital Investment Committee. "We are recovering from the recession and I think it is time to not be real conservative, but to be prudent."

Senate Majority Leader David Senjem, R-Rochester, said his members expect to introduce their borrowing proposal later this week at an amount close to the House's target.

Staff writer Jennifer Brooks contributed to this report.

Baird Helgeson • 651-222-1288

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