State Capitol repairs top Dayton's bonding proposal

State Capitol repairs
Repairs to the interior of the Minnesota State Capitol, which have been going on for years, make up the largest single part of Gov. Mark Dayton's bonding proposal released Monday, April 8, 2013.
MPR File Photo/Jennifer Simonson

Gov. Mark Dayton has put renovation of the State Capitol Building at the top of his list of proposed public construction projects.

Dayton released a $750 million bonding bill package Monday that he said would result in an estimated 21,000 jobs throughout the state.

• Video: Dayton unveils bonding proposal

The governor's list of proposed projects was pared down from $2.5 billion in requests, and many were carryovers from previous sessions. Dayton said the state has sufficient debt capacity for the projects and can take advantage of low interest rates.

Most of the package — $189 million — is for higher education projects. Dayton said those projects had to meet a specific standard.

"I told both MnSCU and the University of Minnesota I wanted projects that were focused on bringing their curricula up into the modern era and aligning what they're offering to the jobs of the future," Dayton said. "Also into modernizing laboratories, classrooms, equipment, technology, so that they're training young people on the technology that they're using, and they can come out job ready."

The proposal includes the reconstruction of Nicollet Avenue in downtown Minneapolis, as well as civic center expansions in Mankato, Rochester and St. Cloud. There are improvements in veteran homes, regional treatment centers and state correctional facilities, including a perimeter fence for the Shakopee women's prison.

But the biggest single project is $109 million for the next phase of renovation work on the State Capitol Building in St. Paul. Lawmakers approved the first-phase funding last year. The final phase will require approval of an additional $95 million.

Spencer Cronk, commissioner of the Department of Administration, said the building is at a tipping point. Cronk said delaying a comprehensive restoration will result in expensive annual repairs without solving any of the root problems.

"We can either decide if we're going to do a comprehensive project today or if we're going to see scaffolding, like you have seen, around the building for the next 50 years," Cronk said. "We can either do this once and for all and make sure that we're preserving this Capitol for the next 100 years, or we can see this in a constant state of asset preservation."

SUPER MAJORITY NEEDED

Passage of a bonding bill requires a 60 percent super majority in both the House and Senate. That means Democrats will need some Republican votes. Dayton said he has not yet discussed his proposal with GOP leaders, but he thinks it has the necessary balance to gain bipartisan support.

"Obviously one of the reasons legislators support these bills is because there are projects in it for their districts, whether they're Republican or Democrat," Dayton said. "One of the reasons they don't support it is when there aren't projects for them."

Republicans were questioning the size of Dayton's proposal, as well as the need for any additional borrowing this session. Senate Minority Leader David Hann of Eden Prairie said bonding bills should be dealt with in non-budget years.

"We all understand that we need to make, and should make, and do make, investments in our public infrastructure," Hann said. "I think to do it in a budget year is troubling. We think that we should focus on the budget."

GOP PUSHBACK ON CAPITOL WORK

The GOP bonding resistance also applies to the Capitol renovation. Republican Rep. Matt Dean of Dellwood, who serves on the Capitol Preservation Commission, said he supports the project. But Dean is questioning whether $109 million is really needed this year.

"Why can't that wait, and if not, how much can be deferred?" Dean said.

DFL Rep. Alice Hausman of St. Paul, the chair of the House Capital Investment Committee, said she's running out of patience with colleagues who want to delay necessary infrastructure investments. Hausman said construction costs will only increase if lawmakers wait another year. She plans to release the details of the House DFL bonding bill proposal Tuesday morning.

Other elements of the Dayton plan include:

• $85 million for the renovation of a physics laboratory at the University of Minnesota, among the $100 million in projects slated for the four-campus school. Science classroom projects are also a central part of the $89 million in work on Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system campuses.

• $54 million for demolition of old buildings and the construction of new facilities at the Minneapolis Veterans Home.

• $50 million in prison upgrades, including $5 million to put a fence around the women's prison in Shakopee, where the perimeter currently consists of hedges.

• $35 million to expand and remodel the civic center in Rochester, $14.5 million for Mankato's civic center expansion and $10 million for civic center work in St. Cloud.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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