Uncertainty remains over whether there will be a bonding bill in 2012
State agencies have submitted their preliminary requests for construction projects that they would like to see funded in preparation for a bonding bill during the 2012 legislative session. Given the state’s limited financial resources, House Capital Investment Chairman Larry Howes said he will have a lot of trimming to do if the leadership gives the green light to do a bonding bill next year.
“There’s over $2 billion in requests. Obviously we all know a very small portion of them will be considered, let alone passed,” said Howes, R-Walker.
Lawmakers usually pass a large bonding bill in even-numbered years. But Gov. Mark Dayton this year called for a $1 billion capital projects bill. As part of the final budget deal, the Republican-controlled Legislature passed and Dayton signed a $500 million bill.
State agencies have made preliminary requests for 142 projects, which include their appeals for general asset preservation and financing programs that are distributed to multiple projects throughout the state. In addition, local governments have also submitted bonding requests.
It’s uncertain if spending-averse Republicans will agree to put more debt on the state’s credit card if the general fund continues to sprout deficits. But by submitting their 2012 preliminary wish lists to the Minnesota Department of Management and Budget, the agencies have set the process in motion. The projects include bold initiatives like the Southwest Corridor light rail from downtown Minneapolis to Eden Prairie and a multiyear project for the Regional Treatment Center and the Minnesota Sex Offender Program in St. Peter.
While stand-alone projects with large price tags receive the most attention, some agencies’ largest requests are for programs that funnel money to small projects around the state. The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System wants $110 million for asset preservation projects like roof repair throughout its net work of campuses. The State Department of Corrections (DOC) notes it has a $86 million backlog in maintenance projects. They are asking for $40 million in 2012 to chip away at the needed work.
“Over the past several years the Department of Corrections has made bonding requests for asset preservation and preventative maintenance,” said DOC Communications Director John Schadl. “However, the Legislature has not always approved the entire DOC request. The list of projects we have submitted would bring us up to date in this area and save taxpayers future higher costs for construction and repairs.”
Among the high-profile stand-alone requests is $70 million by the state Department of Human Services (DHS) for a project at the Regional Treatment Center in St. Peter. The project is part of a multiyear plan that is still in the formative stages.
In its request for funding, DHS expresses concern that the St. Peter campus is home to both civilly committed people in the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP) and mentally ill individuals in the Minnesota Security Hospital (MSH) who are not sex offenders. DHS regards the people in the MSH program as vulnerable adults, while the sex offenders are not. The long-range plan is designed to divide the two groups on separate campuses in St. Peter.
“Allowing individuals from both programs to intermingle on the lower campus is not good policy, and there needs to be a concerted effort to separate the two populations,” according to the DHS request. Once the Minnesota Security Hospital campus is ready, DHS plans to make a bonding request in 2014 that calls for $17 million to build more beds for sex offenders that will handle expected growth in the program. In the last 10 years, the MSOP has increased from 149 to 625 people, according to DHS. If Minnesota courts keep up with current trends, MSOP will run out of beds by July 2013. The requests for St. Peter come after state lawmakers this year approved $7 million in the bonding bill to improve a 50-year-old building there that has housed both sex offenders and vulnerable adults.
Senate Health and Human Services Chairman David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said he hasn’t yet formed an opinion about the proposal. He expects to meet with DHS officials before the next legislative session to discuss it. “I know there are concerns about the numbers of people who are brought into the program and whether the facilities are adequate to deal with that,” Hann said.
In another noteworthy proposal, after being snubbed by the Legislature this year, the Metropolitan Council is making a strong push to get the necessary state portion of funding for the Southwest light rail transit corridor that is proposed to run 15 miles from downtown Minneapolis to Eden Prairie.
The project is expected to cost $1.25 billion, according to the Met Council. The state is expected to pay 10 percent of the cost. The Met Council is requesting $25 million next year and $95 million in 2014. According to the request, the project’s schedule requires that the money be committed by mid-2013.
All major transit projects like Southwest have to get several approvals from the Federal Transit Administration to move forward and qualify for the FTA to cover 50 percent of the cost. Met Council officials are waiting for one of those approvals. In recent discussions with the Met Council, the FTA has made it clear that to get the next such federal approval — expected in 2013 — the project has to have secured the financing for the state’s $125 million share of the cost.
Margaret Donahoe, executive director of the Minnesota Transportation Alliance, said the rail line’s future is heavily reliant on receiving funding next year. “Certainly it needs some funding, and we want to keep it going so it’s eligible for federal funding. If there is a bonding bill next session, and we certainly hope there is one, we definitely would like to see that project included,” she said.
Transit advocates were disappointed Southwest LRT was excluded from a list of transit corridors that were funded in the 2011 bill. But House Transportation Policy and Finance Chairman Michael Beard, R-Shakopee, said he has a problem with having general fund dollars spent to finance a train that services only a slice of the Twin Cities area.
“I’m a metro guy, but even I can say there’s a problem with that request,” Beard said.
Among other notable projects:
• The University of Minnesota is asking for $100 million for a new ambulatory care clinic on the Minneapolis campus. The university wants to replace its 1960s outpatient clinic facilities with new facilities that can accommodate the increase in visits that occur today. The clinics currently handle the patient volume at multiple sites on and off campus.
• The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System wants $70 million for a science education center at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul. The expansion would enable the school to add five science degrees to its current offering of three. Metro State is the only MnSCU university that doesn’t have a dedicated science building. MnSCU, however, ranks the project 16th out of its 26 preliminary bonding requests.
• The Department of Public Safety is seeking $25 million for a State Emergency Operations Center and Homeland Security and Emergency Management Office. The 52,000-square-foot building is planned to be co-located at the Minnesota National Guard Joint Force Headquarters in Arden Hills. Lawmakers have previously approved $2.25 million for the project’s pre-design.
Capital Investment committees in the House and Senate usually travel throughout the state to view proposed projects. Howes said his committee’s budget for summer travel has not been finalized. “I’m hoping to start in September some time,” he said.