Chairwoman Wants Communities To Pressure Lawmakers On Bonding

By Don Davis

Communities across Minnesota should pressure lawmakers to support a public works funding bill, its House sponsor says.

“I think those local communities absolutely have a vested interest in this bill,” Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, said Tuesday after introducing her $800 million measure to fund projects ranging from renovating the state Capitol building to fixing college roofs.

She used Red Wing as an example.

“Red Wing wants this bill desperately,” she said, because of provisions that would help with Mississippi River flood protection and a trail while at the same time improving access to a grain terminal that loads up to 500 barges a year.

Hausman said Red Wing officials need to persuade local legislators to support the overall public works projects bill, to be funded by the state selling bonds.

The Capital Investment Committee chairwoman’s message was that her bonding bill needs a wide range of support.

“I need all the Democrats to vote for it, and I need eight Republicans,” she said.

Republicans were not ready to commit to the bill.

“Our caucus priority is not on a bonding bill at this point,” Rep. Matt Dean, R-Dellwood said, adding that a state budget needs to pass first.

Hausman said the bill would help Minnesota continue its recovery from recession.

“As Minnesota’s economy continues to recover, this bill will go a long way to helping put people to work while improving and preserving our critical statewide infrastructure repairs,” Hausman said. “Many of these projects are shovel- and paint-ready and can be started almost immediately.”

The Hausman bill looks a lot like a public works funding plan Gov. Mark Dayton released Monday.

A committee vote on the House bill is set for Thursday. There is no indication when, or whether, the Senate will produce its own bonding bill.

Like the Dayton bill, the House plan’s biggest project is $109 million to step up renovation of the 108-year-old Capitol. Another $94 million or $95 million would be needed next year to complete the multiyear project.

Dean said he would prefer that $109 million slated for state Capitol building renovation be presented in a separate bill rather than folded into a measure with more controversial issues.

An issue Hausman admitted will be controversial is her decision not to spend $54.1 million that Dayton wants to update a Minneapolis veterans’ home building.

Hausman said a comprehensive plan is needed about how to best serve veterans, perhaps moving away from sending many to Minneapolis. Some legislators are pushing for veterans’ homes in Bemidji, Brainerd and elsewhere, but Hausman wondered whether they could be better served in nursing homes or their own homes.

The $5.3 million Hausman includes in her bill would fund improvements in existing veterans’ homes, including in Fergus Falls, Hastings, Luverne and Silver Bay.

Many more local projects were included in the House bill compared to when Republicans controlled the House or governor’s office.

Hausman included $250,000 to design Wade Stadium improvements in Duluth.

The St. Paul lawmaker said the stadium story is sad. Part of it was built by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s from bricks removed from a nearby street.

Earlier this year, a wall built with the bricks collapsed.

The Red Wing Renaissance project would receive $1.6 million under the House bill.

The project is along Levee Road near the Mississippi River.

Levee Road would be reconstructed between Broad and Jackson streets, with improvements to storm and sanitary sewers.

Also, a harbor retaining wall would be replaced, parking improvements would occur and a segment of the Riverwalk Trail would be added.

Hausman called the project “a very, very major issue.”

Also in the Hausman bill:

— $47.5 million to build a new University of Minnesota natural resources museum on the school’s St. Paul campus.

— $6 million to replace the university’s bee research facility.

— $5.2 million to replace a building at Minnesota State Community and Technical College-Moorhead.

— $16.2 million for trails around the state.

— $103.2 million to improve and add buildings at the University of Minnesota and $89 million for Minnesota State Colleges and Universities.

— Funds to complete Mankato, St. Cloud and Rochester civic centers.

“We have an obligation to preserve our important infrastructure in this state,” Hausman said. “This bill is regionally balanced, will create jobs and help push us out of recession.”