DFL Gov. Mark Dayton has released a list of public works construction projects that he claims will result in thousands of jobs, mostly in the depressed building sector.
His proposed $775 million bonding bill would upgrade college buildings statewide, expand regional civic centers and add to the light rail transit system. But Republican legislative leaders argue the state cannot afford any more debt.
The bonding bill is the centerpiece of Dayton's job-creation agenda for the 2012 Legislative session, which begins next Tuesday. The governor proposing the state issue $775 million in bonds. But when other leveraged funds are factored in, the total impact of the list is nearly $1.5 billion. He estimates the projects, if approved, would result in 21,700 jobs. With his likely Republican critics in mind, the DFL governor stressed that most of those jobs would be in the private sector.
"The contractors and sub-contractors are almost all private sector companies. They employ workers in the private sector," Dayton said. "These are exactly the jobs we all say we all say want to increase in Minnesota. Well, here's our chance."
Dayton's bonding proposal is heavy on higher education projects, mostly for the upkeep of existing facilities. The University of Minnesota would get $107 million, and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system would get nearly $112 million. The list of projects also includes upgrades at the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter, a down payment on the Southwest Corridor Light Rail Transit line, a new St. Paul Saints baseball stadium and civic center expansions in Mankato, Rochester and St. Cloud. There's also a renovation of the Nicollet Mall in Minneapolis and many more projects. The ballpark and civic centers have been proposed before, and rejected. But Dayton insists those projects are still important.
"I hope the Legislature will look at them," Dayton said. "If they don't want to take my word for it, they can consult with my father or with other business leaders who understand the importance to business and to jobs and to economic vitality of downtown revitalization projects."
During a news conference, Dayton highlighted a $3.5 million project to renovate the home of the Harriet Tubman Center East, a domestic violence shelter in Maplewood, and the $13.5 million expansion of the Hormel Institute, a bioscience research facility in Austin, Texas. Zigang Dong, executive director of the Hormel Institute, said the project would create construction jobs, as well as 120 additions to his staff.
"These jobs are high-tech jobs, medical research jobs," Dong said. "It's not easy to bring these jobs to Austin, to a rural area of Minnesota."
With the prospects of new jobs waiting, Dayton urged lawmakers to pass a bonding bill early in the 2012 session. He asks for the bill to be on his desk to sign by the end of February.
Republican legislative leaders were quick to criticize Dayton's proposal, but they appeared to be moving at their own, slower pace on a bonding bill. House Majority leader Matt Dean of Dellwood isn't convinced that a bonding bill is needed this session.
"We're not constitutionally obligated to a bonding bill. We passed a bonding bill last year, and certainly we have the capacity to do so again, and our bonding committee is working hard, but we have had sessions in the past where we have not passed them," Dean said. "We are not obligated to do so, by any means."
Dean and other Republicans are concerned about the state's ability to afford additional debt service. Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem of Rochester, who chairs the committee that will hear the bonding bill, said he and Dayton have a fundamental philosophical difference. Senjem said bonding bills are meant to repair and build infrastructure, not to serve as a stimulus or short-term jobs program.
"That should not be our jobs program. Our jobs program ought to be about looking at tax climate, looking at regulatory climate and doing things to incent the private sector," Senjem said. Bonding does not do that to any great degree."
Senjem said he expects Senate Republicans will propose about $400 million in bonding, emphasizing higher education and other core infrastructure projects.