Hallock city officials in northwestern Minnesota want the state to borrow $255,000 to help replace a fire station, $360,000 to replace a swimming pool and $400,000 for sewage system improvements.
In southeast Minnesota’s Red Wing area, requests for state money include $14.8 million for a railroad overpass, $4.5 million for a downtown “renaissance,” $16 million for port improvements, $550,000 for Minnesota State Southeast Technical College repairs and $935,000 for the Minnesota correctional facility in Red Wing.
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton on Tuesday said he wants the state to fund those and nearly 180 more projects across the state by selling $842 million in bonds. Republicans and the Senate leader were not on board, but even GOP legislators who have talked against a 2015 bonding bill did not completely rule one out.
Dayton said that his proposal would help Minnesota’s economy by allowing the state to “do what every smart business does, to lay the foundation for a better a better future.”
The Democratic governor said that now is when the state should sell bonds to finance projects with low interest rates. “What better time do we have to make these investments?”
Even Dayton admitted that it is a stretch to think legislators will grant his wish, given Republican reluctance to borrow the money. However, in the hours after Dayton announced his bonding proposal, Republicans gave bonding supporters some hope.
House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said Republicans have no plans to pass a bonding bill this year but didn’t shut the door entirely.
“We are open to listening if the governor thinks some of these projects are timely,” Daudt said. “But we certainly are not planning for one right now.”
Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, said that he would consider a bonding bill, even if many Republicans want nothing. “I have been here nine years and I have never seen zero yet. This is pretty normal.”
The senator added: “Give it a little time to digest and see what happens.”
Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said that he fears if a big bonding bill like Dayton wants passes this year, the governor will push another big one next year (Dayton said that if his passes this year, he may propose a $200 million to $250 million one next year).
“I don’t know that we are going to see anything, but if there is (it must be) very, very modest,” Hann said.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, said he has instructed bonding Chairman LeRoy Stumpf, D-Plummer, to draw up a basic bonding bill that includes statewide needs such as college repairs, but not local projects such as Hallock and Red Wing officials hope to see.
“That is not the real work of this session,” Bakk said about a major bonding bill. “The budget is our priority for this session.”
Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, said he was happy to see Dayton included $48 million to complete southwest Minnesota’s Lewis and Clark water system. He said that Lewis and Clark should be in a bonding bill unless lawmakers and Dayton opt to pay cash for it.
Lewis and Clark is the largest single project Dayton put in his plan. The proposal also includes $65 million to build four railroad overpasses or underpasses in Willmar, Prairie Island Indian Community, Moorhead and Coon Rapids, places where trains transporting crude oil travel.
Dayton’s office said that $360 million of the projects would be in greater Minnesota, $321 million in the Twin Cities and $161 million for statewide programs. A quarter of the money would go to education facilities.
Dayton said that his office received $1.9 billion in project requests and many items that he included in his plan could use more money. “We could spend $800 million on rail safety,” Dayton said.
“This bonding bill addresses high-priority needs,” Commissioner Myron Frans of Minnesota Management and budget said.
Dayton said that projects like the Hallock pool and the southwest water system are important: “It makes a lot of difference to the people.”
St. Paul Pioneer Press reporter Doug Belden contributed to this story. The Pioneer Press is a Forum News Service media partner.