Dayton unveils public works package; faces steep odds in Legislature

Gov. Mark Dayton
Gov. Mark Dayton, Mar. 17, 2015.
Tim Pugmire | MPR News file

Updated 4:35 p.m. | Posted 11:16 a.m.

Gov. Mark Dayton Tuesday proposed $842 million in public works construction that he said would create nearly 24,000 jobs. The plan, however, faces a tough climb in the Legislature.

The project list (.pdf), pared down from $1.9 billion in requests, includes $200 million for college campus improvements, $78 million for railroad safety projects and $20 million for added renovations to the state Capitol.

One of the largest proposals would spend $48 million to complete work on the Lewis & Clark water system in southwest Minnesota.

Nearly 40 percent of the projects he's recommending are in the Twin Cities metro area with the rest spread across Minnesota.

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There's money for zoo exhibits in St. Paul and Apple Valley, port upgrades in Duluth and three river cities, a driver training facility in Marshall and a new city swimming pool in Hallock.

Dayton said with low interest rates and the state running a healthy surplus there's no better time to make the investments. He urged lawmakers who might have concerns to come up with their own list rather than simply scrap the idea of a public works bill.

But it's going to be a tough sell.

The Legislature traditionally considers what are known as bonding bills in the second year of a legislative session after focusing on the state budget during the first year.

Neither the House nor the Senate included money for debt payments on a bonding bill in the budget outlines they released last month, which dims the prospects for a package this session.

House Republicans have said repeatedly that they want to wait until 2016 to consider a bonding bill.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said the projects in the governor's proposal will be discussed next session after proper committee vetting. He said interest rates should still be favorable then.

Daudt left the door open for some bonding discussions yet this session.

"If the governor thinks some of these projects are timely, I certainly am open to listening," he said. "But we aren't planning for (a bill) right now."

Dayton said having no bill would be a mistake.

"It's an arbitrary decision that some may make, and that's their prerogative," he told reporters. "But then they need to go back and tell people all over the state, especially in the communities that will benefit from these investments, why it is they're walking away sound fiscal decisions and sound community building decisions."

Dayton dismissed the notion that public works bills should be reserved for even-year sessions. He said there have been bonding bills passed in 31 of the past 32 years.

Democrats in the Minnesota Senate aren't planning for one since the state constitution requires bonding bills to originate in the House.

But Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said he wants to be prepared, just in case House Republicans change their minds.