By Don Davis
Gov. Mark Dayton wants the state to borrow $986 million for construction projects across Minnesota, ranging from renovating a theater in the northeast to continuing a water project in the southwest, from expanding a civic center in the southeast to building a wellness center in the northwest.
Two broad categories would use more than half of the money that Dayton today suggested spending. Education projects, mostly at state-owned colleges and universities, total $265 million of Dayton’s request, with economic development initiatives taking $232 million.
The Dayton administration said that 38 percent of the funds would go to the seven-country Twin Cities area, 34 percent is targeted to other areas and 28 percent is proposed for statewide programs.
“This jobs bill would address many of our economic development needs,” Dayton said, claiming 27,000 jobs would be created.
Key to his plan is funding for civic centers and other downtown projects in Rochester, Minneapolis, Mankato, St. Paul and St. Cloud. He also includes nearly $7 million to renovate Duluth’s NorShore Theatre.
The University of Minnesota and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities systems would get more than a quarter of Dayton’s askings. Each would get $40 million to repair and modernize campus facilities.
The biggest single higher education project would spend $57 million to renovate a University of Minnesota Twin Cities science and teaching building. Also included is $10 million for a Crookston campus wellness center.
Dayton said that after the federal government dropped its funding for southwest Minnesota’s Lewis and Clark water system, he included $20 million to extend the system to Luverne.
Continuation of a state Capitol building renovation project would receive $126 million.
The Dayton bill also would fund renovations at veterans’ homes in Luverne and Silver Bay.
Republicans immediately criticized the Dayton plan as being too expensive.
“Today’s wish list is another example of Gov. Dayton asking hardworking Minnesotans to overpay for things they would never buy for their families or small businesses…” Rep. Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, said. “The list includes some worthwhile projects. We should focus on taking better care of the buildings we already have before literally growing the footprint of government — that will provide more work, faster for trades across the state.”
Democrats were receptive.
“Gov. Dayton’s robust bonding bill demonstrates strategic investments in our state which will create thousands of jobs and support the continued growth of Minnesota’s economy,” Rep. Alice Hausman, D-St. Paul, said. “This balanced bill will benefit Minnesotans across the state at a time when our economy is continuing to improve.”
Construction projects are funded by the state selling bonds, which Minnesota repays over decades.
Republicans have said they think the nearly $1 billion Dayton wants to spend on construction projects should be spread over last year and this year.
Dayton wanted to borrow up to $800 million last year alone. However, lawmakers and Dayton agreed to spend $154 million on projects across the state, with $132 million to continue a state Capitol building renovation.
Bonding bills usually pass in even-numbered years like this. They provide an economic stimulus across the state just before incumbents are up for election in November.
Bonding is one area where Republicans in the House and Senate minorities must help if anything passes. While most bills require a simple majority, borrowing money requires the Legislature to approve bonding bills with enough votes that Democrats alone cannot reach the mark.