Senate Democrats are seeking $1.16 billion in state-backed construction projects, focusing on new money for higher education and economic development initiatives.

“We had to make some tough decisions on a number of worthy projects, but I am confident we have the best bill that improves the quality of life in Minnesota,” said Senate Capital Investment Committee chairman LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer.

Senate DFLers would spend $411 million in economic development projects, including roads and bridges. They want to spend $298 million on state colleges and universities, along with another $80 million in new housing around the state. It would be the largest investment in public housing in state history.

“Affordable and available housing is a cornerstone of strong economic development and a strong middle class,” Stumpf said Monday.

Senate DFLers unveiled the measure after touring the state and looking at more than $3 billion in projects vying for funding. The Minnesota House has already released its proposal and now the leaders from the two bodies will meet to merge the two plans.

Senate Democrats said the measure puts important projects in every corner of the state, creating 28,000 jobs and add more than $1.1 billion in personal income.  

The measure includes long-sought money for civic centers in Mankato, Rochester and St. Cloud. The Minnesota Children’s Museum would get $14 million and the Minnesota Zoo would get another $10 million, under the proposal. Duluth would get $6 million to renovate the historic NorShor Theater and Minneapolis would see $20 million to revitalize Nicollet Mall.

Senate Democrats also want $56 million to remodel the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter, millions for Metropolitan Council transit and cultural amenity projects, and $15 million for a new Dorothy Day Center in St. Paul.

To pay for all the new construction, the Senate is seeking $846 million in state-backed debt and another $200 million in cash.

DFL and Republican leaders signed an agreement last year sticking to less than $850 in borrowing. State borrowing requires a supermajority of votes, so the agreement is rock-solid unless the GOP agrees to borrow more.

With the economy strong and budget flush, Democrats want to use extra cash to pay for even more projects.

Democrats can pass the cash portion without a single Republican vote, and that portion is already causing friction with Republicans.

Stumpf’s proposal includes $126 million in cash to finish the comprehensive Capitol restoration, which has broad political support and  Republicans had wanted in the borrowing portion.

Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said last week that the Capitol should be paid for with borrowing. He prefers that the cash portion be used for projects with weaker Republicans support.

Along with the Capitol, Senate Democrats want to use the cash to pay for local bridge replacements, road improvements and money to recognize and honor unmarked graves tied to state hospitals.

“We have accomplished what a bonding bill should accomplish: maintaining our state’s publicly owned property and infrastructure, while simultaneously creating jobs and improving our communities,” Stumpf said.

How do you get to $1.16 billion in construction projects?

-- $846 million in general obligation bonding

-- $198 million cash

-- $42.6 million in MNSCU bonds

-- $7.9 million in state transportation fund

-- $70 million in housing finance bonds

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