By Don Davis
The Minnesota Senate will consider spending more than $1 billion on public works projects ranging from a water system to preparing new Vermillion State Park to fixing state college facilities.
The state would borrow $846 million, through selling bonds that would be repaid by general taxes. It also would spend nearly $200 million in cash from a state budget surplus as well as money from other sources. Today’s release of the Senate bonding bill is the last remaining puzzle needed for the Legislature to adjourn for the year in the next two weeks.
While the proposal matches total borrowing in a House plan, specific projects in the bills vary. Bonding falls a bit short of what Gov. Mark Dayton proposes.
Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, chairman of the committee that considers public works projects, said the state received about $4 billion in requests from local governments and state agencies for projects. Public facilities are aging, he said, and money is needed to repair them.
“Stuff doesn’t last forever,” Stumpf said.
The Plummer Democrat said he tried to focus on basic needs such as repairing buildings like the state Capitol, transportation, economic development and housing.
State-run colleges and universities would get nearly $300 million of the funds, which Stumpf said would help train workers.
“Businesses all over the state were eager for higher-trained workers,” Stumpf said he learned while traveling the state.
Rural areas, in particular, need better-trained workers, he added, to bolster their economic growth.
Republicans were critical of the bill, saying projects such as transportation and southwest Minnesota’s Lewis and Clark water system were shortchanged in the Senate bill.
Lewis and Clark needs about $70 million to provide water to the Luverne and Worthington areas. None of the proposals provide that much. Senators’ suggestion is paying $13 million to keep the project going, while Dayton and the House suggest spending $20 million.
Republicans were critical of things such as funding a Minneapolis sculpture garden instead of Lewis and Clark.
“If you want to do things like extend water to the parched area of the state … shouldn’t we be able to start with those critical needs first?” Rep. Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, said.
Stumpf, however, said, a bonding bill needs to contain a variety of projects.
“It is easy to point to a project and say, ‘Don’t fund this one, but fund the one I want,'” Stumpf said.
When it comes to projects like the sculpture garden, he admitted, “many people probably think of it more as a frill than a need.”
Three-fifths of the House and Senate must approve of a bonding bill, which means some Republicans will need to join Democrats who control the Legislature in voting for the bill. The cash spending, which will be in a separate bill, only needs a simple majority.
Stumpf said he expects the House and Senate to pass different bills, forcing negotiators to work out differences in a conference committee.
He said legislative leaders want to adjourn for the year by the end of the week, but he said that work may not be done by then.