Dayton University Funding Demand Stalls Bonding Bill

Union workers rally for construction projects

A disagreement about how money should be divided between the state’s two public college and university systems put the brakes on a public works funding bill minutes before Thursday night debate was to begin.

Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker, said Gov. Mark Dayton threatened to veto the bill if spending in the two systems was not closer to being balanced.

The bill Howes and Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, wrote would have given $54 million to the University of Minnesota and $145 million to the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, mostly for repair work. Howes said he hopes to make the two figures within $25 million to $30 million of each other.

Howes said that in the next few days, money would be removed from MnSCU’s proposed spending and given to the university. Some other parts of the bill also may lose funds to the university, he added.

“I can see that he maybe has got a point,” Howes said.

Key Democrats had approved the bill, but Dayton’s office called Howes to say if the figures were not changed, the proposal would be vetoed.

The House had planned to take up the measure Thursday evening, and Howes said it was too late to make the changes on the fly.

“There could be changes within the bill,” Howes said of the newly reopened negotiations, but he insisted they would be small.

As legislators run out of days they can meet, it was not clear how much Thursday night’s stumble might delay adjourning for the year.

While Howes said he hopes to take up the bill Monday, that was not certain. After the House passes the bill, senators must consider it.

When he thought the House would debate the bill Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, said he did not expect the Senate to take it up until Tuesday.

The top two public works Democrats said it makes sense to fund MnSCU at a higher rate because it has three times the students of the university. They said the bill had a good chance to pass the House and Senate.

Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, said he planned to vote for the bill, even though he felt the higher education funding was “somewhat off balance,” but called the overall bill “pretty good.”

The Howes-Senjem bill would spend $496 million for projects ranging from fixing college buildings to improving bridges and roads, from flood-prevention projects to improving state prisons.

Included in the plan is $44 million to begin a state Capitol building renovation project that eventually will cost more than $200 million.

The bill, now subject to change, included $30 million for flood-prevention efforts. Langseth, who ran for office one final time to get more flood money, said the amount “isn’t bad.” He had hoped for $10 million more.

The bill also would provide $30 million to improve local bridges, $10 million for local roads and $30 million for home foreclosure prevention.

A $55 million line item worried some. It is supposed to be for economic development, but some feared it was put there to allow some cities to fund civic centers that Republicans did not put in the bill.

Howes said that was not his intention.

Langseth said that while the bill would borrow just less than $500 million, it actually would produce $800 million in construction activity when federal grants are added in.

Republicans say the bill funds concrete and other construction necessities, not frills such as wallpaper.

Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, said he agreed with other Democrats: “I wish it was a little larger, but I guess we have to work with what we got.”

Projects contained in the bill “are spread pretty much around the state,” Stumpf said.