Dayton unveils $531M bonding plan, GOP scoffs

Dayton unveils bonding bill
Gov. Mark Dayton rolled out about 200 bonding projects at the State Capitol on Monday, Jan. 31, 2011. The $531 million in projects are part of a larger $1 billion bonding bill. He displayed a map showing the locations of the projects he was proposing.
MPR Photo/Tim Nelson

Gov. Mark Dayton has revealed $531 million in projects that he hopes become part of a $1 billion bonding bill to improve public buildings and create construction jobs across the state.

The projects announced Monday range from flood mitigation along the Red River to civic center renovations to new construction and improvements at the state's public colleges and universities.

The list also includes $20 million for a new regional ballpark in downtown St. Paul that would be home to the Saints minor league baseball team.

Dayton wants the Legislature to select about $470 million in additional projects to make up the final bill.

The state typically approves major capital projects during even-year sessions of the Legislature, but Dayton said Minnesota has a relatively light debt burden compared to other states and can afford to launch a bonding program to help the economy.

The proposals include $226 million for higher education, including $51 million for a new physics and nanotechnology building at the University of Minnesota.

City projects on the list include $28 million for renovation of the Mayo Civic Center in Rochester, which officials said would generate 400 construction jobs. The Target Center in downtown Minneapolis also made the list.

Dayton said he hopes the Legislature will come up with the other half of the list soon and will swiftly pass a bonding bill, noting that interest rates were still low and that jobs could be created soon after the bill becomes law.

"Studies estimate that a billion dollars of public bonding, when aimed at shovel ready and paint and repair projects, such as those in my proposal, can create up to 28,000 private sector jobs," Dayton said. "This is one of the ways in which the state of Minnesota can impact job creation."

But Republicans have already expressed skepticism over using the state's credit card during tough economic times.

Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker, said his party isn't willing to pass a bonding bill at all this year unless there's an emergency.

"We have not ruled that there will be a bonding bill, but I believe that we're very close to saying there won't be except for flood mitigation, cancellations and that type of thing," Howes said. "In the political world, you never know what type of emergency might come up like we have to fix a leaky roof. But we're not planning on having a huge bonding bill or any bonding bill at this time."

Howes said he may be open to spending money on some projects but only if they're funded with unspent money from past projects where construction hasn't started yet.

State Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, chairs the Senate Capital Investment Committee and said funding for the Mayo Civic Center will have to wait. Supporters of the project have been lobbying for funding for several years. It was included in the bonding bill last year, but then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty vetoed it. Senjem said lawmakers have to deal with the budget now.

But Rochester Mayor Ardell Brede said the expansion would help Senjem's home town.

"The conferences and conventions that we would invite and have invited in the past but aren't able to hold them, are not just conventions that get rotated around the state of Minnesota," Brede said. "They are projects that come from outside of the state. So it's new money for the state of Minnesota."

Republicans have indicated that they may be willing to borrow for some new projects, but only if they can use unspent money from past projects that have been approved, but where construction hasn't started yet.

Dayton said most of the projects vetoed by Pawlenty are included on the list. He said his staff was able to easily verify many projects to include in this year's bill.

"[These projects] were ready then and they are even more ready now," he said. "These are projects that benefit the people of Minnesota."

LIST OF SOME OF THE BIGGER PROJECTS DAYTON PROPOSES:

- $51 million for a new 150,000 square-foot physics and nanotechnology building at the University of Minnesota

- $35 million for roof replacements, wall repairs and other improvements to buildings at the University of Minnesota

- $30 million for building improvements at the Minnesota State Colleges and University system campuses

- $28 million in Department of Natural Resources flood hazard mitigation grants for cities and towns

- $28 million for renovations at the Mayo Civic Center in Rochester, $12 million for Mankato Civic Center and $10 million for St. Cloud Civic Center expansion

- $22 million for improvements to state prisons

- $20 million for a new regional baseball stadium in downtown St. Paul that would be home to the Saints minor league baseball team

- $19 million for building improvements at state parks and other facilities maintained by the DNR

- $16 million to the Three Rivers Park District for dam repair and reconstruction in Coon Rapids

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