Senate Dems propose $1.5 billion construction plan

Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, detailed his $1.5 billion bonding proposal during a news conference. Tim Pugmire|MPR News

with Tim Pugmire

Updated at 12:35 p.m. with Senjem reaction, Bakk comments.

The Democratic-controlled Minnesota Senate will consider a borrowing-to-build proposal that authorizes $1.8 billion worth of construction around the state, on everything from college campus repairs to wastewater facility upgrades to museum and park enhancements.

The plan unveiled Monday during a Senate Capital Investment Committee hearing splits the cost between the local partners and the state, which would foot a $1.5 billion share. But it's far bigger than the $600 million in general borrowing recommendations the House Republican majority is expected to put forth and even exceeds the $1.4 billion in infrastructure work that DFL Gov. Mark Dayton recommended.

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The Senate committee chairman, LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, said the projects in the bill are drawn from more than $5.2 billion in requests. Since September, Stumpf and his colleagues visited cities around Minnesota to get an up-close look at the requests.

"We have moved to try to include a fairly sizable bill but one we can certainly justify," Stumpf said. He said that many publicly-owned assets are in disrepair and others have failed to keep up with population growth or shifting needs.

"It's very basic. I explained it as a Ford or a Chevrolet. It's not a Cadillac," he added.

Construction packages, known around the Capitol as bonding bills, are unique in that they require three-fifths majorities to pass, given that they depend on incurring long-term state debt. That means neither Democrats in the Senate nor Republicans in the House can rely solely on their members to approve them.

The Senate proposal contains financing for more than 300 individual projects or pots of money for those with similar aim to draw from. As an example, there would be $80 million put into a fund to improve wastewater plants or focus on drinking water supplies. Likewise, there would be $150 million set aside for local road and bridge rehabilitation projects and another $65 million for changes to road crossings along oil rail lines.

Other hefty allocations include more than $131 million for the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System to refurbish existing buildings. Each college system would also get more money for new research labs and classroom buildings.

The state Department of Public Safety would gain its top priority with $33 million for a new state emergency operations center.

The Department of Natural Resources would receive $19.7 million to improve state recreation areas and trails. The state Capitol, currently undergoing a $300 million restoration, would have another $22 million in security upgrades.

Republicans say the bill is too big.

Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, said he was surprised by the size of the DFL bonding proposal. Senjem said he doesn't think it's going anywhere this session.

“I don’t think this Legislature, Senate Republicans or certainly the House, is ready to take on a bill like that," Senjem said. "Why they started out that big I have no idea. But that’s part of their strategy. We’ll probably react with a lack of support on it.”

House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Zimmerman, told reporters last week that his side was waiting to approve its general budget bills before laying out a construction proposal.

"We're going to eat our vegetables before we have our dessert this session," Daudt said last Monday.

A big share of the Senate bill, $390 million, is for transportation projects. With negotiations on a separate transportation funding measure still at an impasse, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, described the bonding bill as a potential backup plan for some projects.

“Maybe this is the best we can do,” Bakk said.

Bakk said he plans to have a Senate vote Thursday on the bonding bill.