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House bonding bill advances higher ed projects

Higher education projects fare well in the $1.2 billion House bonding proposal, with more than $436 million for projects at the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities campuses.

The bill, introduced last Thursday by House Capital Investment Committee chair Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, proposes $224.2 million for U of M projects, including $56.7 million for the Tate Laboratory renovation.

MnSCU’s $212.4 million cut includes $40 million for asset preservation, $35.865 million for a new science building at Metro State University in St. Paul, and $25.818 million for a science building at Minnesota State University, Mankato, among other projects.

U of M and MnSCU officials praised the spending proposals, but the bill will need at least eight Republican votes to get the three-fifths support needed for passage, and that’s far from a done deal.

The bill covers $1.34 billion worth of projects, with $1.2 billion in general fund debt service and the rest paid for with user-financed debt services and other funding sources.

Hausman said she could have easily added another $100 million to the bill “without blinking an eye,” adding that the state has growing needs in all areas from higher education to wastewater infrastructure.

“We have huge backlogs,” she said.

Phil Raines, vice president of public affairs for the Associated Builders and Contractors of Minnesota and North Dakota, described the House proposal is a “marker” bill that will be revised along the way.

DFL-authored bills tend to start high and go down from there; the reverse is true of bills from the GOP side, he noted.

Raines said he expects the final bill to end up around $850 million, not including user financing.

“I full anticipate there will be some changes,” Raines added. “But we are excited to have the opportunity to do some of this work and the state certainly has a lot of unmet needs out there.”

Other highlights of Hausman’s bill include:

  • $175.786 million for local projects, such as event centers in Mankato ($14.5 million), Rochester ($37 million), and St. Cloud ($11.5 million).
  • $94.5 million for the ongoing renovation of the State Capitol.
  • $93.58 million for transportation, with $37.75 million for local bridge replacement and rehabilitation and $27 million for passenger and freight rail.
  • $99.418 million for the Metropolitan Council, half of which goes to the transit capital improvement program.
  • $109.075 million for the Department of Natural Resources, which includes $20 million for asset preservation and $19.4 million for acquisition and development of state trails.

In a statement, University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler described the House proposal as a “strong boost for the U of M and the state’s economy.”

The bill includes $51.5 million for a new James Ford Bell natural history museum and planetarium on the St. Paul campus — a project that didn’t make the cut on the U of M’s $232.7 million capital budget request.

One big difference between the House bill and the U of M’s request was the level of funding for asset preservation. The U of M requested $100 million; the House bill offers $40 million.

Kaler said in his statement that the U of M will continue to advocate for additional renovation money.

“We must move the dial to renew our existing facilities,” Kaler said.

Hausman said one concern about asset preservation is that some of the money tends to be funneled to larger projects, such as the renovation of Northrop Auditorium at the U of M, instead of the smaller jobs for which it’s intended.

For new construction, the funding formula is two-thirds from the state and one-third form the institution. Asset preservation is 100 percent state-funded, which offers an incentive for institutions to move more of that work into that category, Hausman said.

“Normally, we would have thought of asset preservation as leaky roofs and energy efficient windows,” she added.

MnSCU requested $227.7 million overall, including $130.6 million to preserve its existing physical assets, which include 21.7 million square feet of space on 54 campuses.

MnSCU Chancellor Steven Rosenstone said in a statement that the Hausman bill would “provide funds for the educational facilities needed to meet the state’s workforce needs in high-growth fields.”

Hausman said a hearing on the House bonding bill could happen as soon as next week.

The House bill is one of three separate bonding proposals.

Gov. Mark Dayton released his $986 million bonding proposal in January. The Senate is expected to release a bonding bill later in the session, perhaps after the break that begins April 10, according to the League of Minnesota Cities.

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