Legislative notebook: Mayo comments upset lawmakers looking at funding

By Don Davis

Minnesota lawmakers put Mayo Clinic leaders on the hot seat Wednesday, a day after the world-famous medical center’s leader said 49 other states would love to be its home.

Rep. John Lesch, DFL-St. Paul, said he was not happy to see Mayo President Dr. John Noseworthy go to the National Press Club Tuesday “and wag his finger at the Minnesota Legislature.”

Lesch said his support for the plan fell after Noseworthy’s comments. Other lawmakers also criticized the comments.

Noseworthy said other states would like Mayo’s planned $3 billion expansion, but said Mayo plans to keep its Minnesota presence.

Mayo official Dr. Brad Narr would not promise the Minnesota House Taxes Committee Wednesday that Mayo would expand in its Rochester home if lawmakers reject its request for a more than $500 million loan.

“I’m not aware of any formal” talks to move Mayo to another state, Narr said.

Mayo consultant Bob Dunn said Rochester “is the best opportunity for Mayo.”

Narr said Mayo’s Minnesota and Wisconsin presence will continue, but the organization needs to decide “where we are going to grow in the future.” Mayo also has major, but smaller, facilities in Arizona and Florida.

Bill author Rep. Kim Norton, DFL-Rochester, said the project could produce up to 30,000 new jobs.

Norton said that the state money Mayo requests would not go to the clinic, but for the city to improve infrastructure and Rochester’s cultural facilities.

Rep. Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis, said that cultural attractions and transportation in and out of Rochester need to be improved.

“It seems like you are building an island,” he told Mayo expansion supporters because it is hard to get to Rochester.

Dunn said Mayo has spent two years looking at the situation. A study that showed entertainment and city culture in general must improve for both Rochester residents and visitors.

He said Rochester’s leisure life is “woefully inadequate. … It’s not as vibrant a community as many in the country.”

The House Tax Committee considered a bill that would provide the Rochester area help to build its infrastructure, but did not take action.

Tax Chairwoman Anne Lenczewski, DFL-Bloomington, said she hopes a new Mayo plan is ready early next week. Norton said Mayo project backers are working on a plan in which Rochester would borrow money for the project, not the state as in her original plan.

Parties back marriage

Leaders of Minnesota’s Democratic, Libertarian and Independence parties on Wednesday urged lawmakers to support a bill allowing same-sex marriages.

“Marriage matters to Minnesotans,” said Ken Martin, Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party chairman. “We value the institution of marriage and the dignity of every Minnesota family.”

Matt Lewis of the Independence Party Executive Committee said his party believes in inclusive government “that embraces diversity and protects the rights of all citizens.”

Added Bob Odden, chairman the Libertarian Party of Minnesota: “Regardless of political beliefs or identifications, Minnesotans believe in the inherent rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all Minnesotans.”

The Minnesota Legislature is expected to vote on bills allowing gay marriage next month.

Water fees cut

Farmer water usage fees would not increase as much under a revised bill than earlier proposed.

Farmers would have faced a substantial irrigation cost increase under a provision in an environment, natural resources and agriculture bill.

An amendment to lower those fees was one of several debated by the House Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Finance Committee Wednesday. The bill passed on an 11-7 party-line vote, with Democrats in favor.

The proposed increase in water fees was one of the more controversial portions of the $837 million bill.

Under the original proposal, fees for agricultural irrigators were to rise from $10 per million gallons of water to $35 per million gallons. The amendment lowers that increase to $22 per million gallons for agricultural irrigation.

The House Public Information Office contributed to this report.

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