By Don Davis
Minnesota would borrow money for relatively small projects, such as $775,000 to improve Clara City streets, to a massive one that all Minnesotans would notice, a $109 million Capitol building renovation, under the governor’s public works funding proposal.
Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton on Monday said he proposes borrowing and spending $750 million because he is trying to catch up after Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty and GOP legislators stymied efforts in recent years to approve many of the projects in the Dayton plan.
Republicans, whose votes are needed to pass a public works bill, generally criticized the governor’s plan as being too spendy and not needed this year.
Dayton said his plan should produce 21,000 jobs, including sending many unemployed back to work. He emphasized projects that are ready to begin.
“Many of them have been delayed for years and are needed to revitalize downtown business centers, modernize college classrooms and laboratories and improve infrastructure throughout our state,” he said of the projects.
Unlike most bills this year, Democrats who control the House and Senate will need Republican support since the Constitution requires a public works funding bill to receive three-fifths support in each chamber.
Republicans were not ready to give that support Monday.
“Tomorrow, House Democrats are expected to unveil a bonding list that seeks to borrow even more money than proposed by Gov. Dayton,” Rep. Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, said. “This continues a disturbing pattern from Democrats who seem to be competing to see who can raise taxes higher and spend the most money.”
Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said that he does not see why a public works bill, funded by the state selling bonds, is needed this year. Lawmakers normally pass major bonding bills in years when they are not writing a budget; this year, they are considering a $38 billion, two-year budget.
Hann said he supports state Capitol renovation, but is not convinced a bonding bill is needed to begin the major portion of the project. And in any case, he said, the Dayton plan “is too big” overall.
Dayton and Administration Commissioner Spencer Cronk emphasized the need to work on the Capitol. After $109 million in this year’s bill, Dayton said, about $95 million more would be needed next year.
Work has been completed on fixing the dome and is beginning on the outside marble walls. Renovation supporters say major improvements are needed to fix air quality, electrical, plumbing, mechanical and structural issues.
“We can either do this once and for all … or we can be in a perpetual state of asset preservation,” Cronk said.
One item Dayton left out of the bonding bill was a $500 million-plus request from Mayo Clinic to help Rochester prepare for a $3.5 billion expansion. Dayton said that he is not sure the current proposal is the right one.
State officials received more than $3 billion in requests for projects.
Dayton said 43 percent of the projects, including Capitol work, would be in the Twin Cities area, with 34 percent elsewhere and 23 percent with statewide impact.
Like other governors, much of the emphasis in his plan is on state-run colleges and universities. He calls for $71.2 million in state funds for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system and $71.7 million for the University of Minnesota.
Unlike Pawlenty, Dayton seeks considerable money for local projects. For instance, his $136.7 million in local projects would provide street work in Clara City, theater and stadium renovations in Duluth, infrastructure work in Fosston, an Iron Range Regional Airport upgrade and industrial park work in Virginia, Minn.
Here are major areas where Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton proposes borrowing money to fund public works projects:
— Capitol building restoration, $109 million
— Capitol area parking facility, $15.7 million
— Correction facility upgrades, $50.3 million
— Rehabilitation and other housing programs, $40 million
— Renovate Minnesota Sex Offender Program building in St. Peter, $4.4 million
— Remodel space at Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter, $46.8 million
— Rochester, Mankato and St. Cloud civic centers, $59.6 million
— Preserving Department of Natural Resources assets, $24 million
— Sewage system improvement grants, $20 million
— Minnesota State Colleges and University system projects, $71.2 million (another $18 million would be paid by MnSCU)
— Local bridge and road funding, and greater Minnesota transit aid, $46.6 million
— University of Minnesota asset preservation and Tate physics laboratory renovation, $71.7 million (university would supply another $28.3 million)
— Minneapolis Veterans Home nursing home reconstruction, $54.1 million.