College campuses and economic development projects are among the big beneficiaries of Gov. Mark Dayton’s 2015 bonding request, but it remains to be seen how much — if any — of the governor’s wish list will become reality.
Under Dayton’s $842 million recommendation, higher education projects would get $200 million, including $100 million each for the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system.
In addition, the governor wants $169 million for economic development, $124 million for parks and historic sites, $99 million for environmental protection, $79 million for rail safety, and $97 million for corrections, public safety and human services, among other priorities.
Projects of note include $20 million to repair water damage at the State Capitol, $34 million for a new Fort Snelling visitor center, and $48 million to complete the Lewis & Clark Regional Water System project in Minnesota.
Dayton said the projects on his list would create jobs and “lay the foundation for a better future” for Minnesota, even as he conceded that he faced an uphill battle over bonding with Republican leadership in the House of Representatives.
Bonding bills originate in the House, and Republican legislators there have shown little interest in putting forth a major bonding bill this year. Typically, large bonding bills are taken up in even-numbered years.
Still, Dayton said the timing is right for another borrowing bill, given the state’s surplus and low interest rates. He said he would be “willing to negotiate” with House and Senate leadership on the makeup of the bill.
“We urge them to make the bill better and not just walk away from it,” he told reporters Tuesday in St. Paul.
Dayton also noted that bonding bills have been passed in 32 of the past 33 years. “If there is not a bonding bill this year, it’s not about tradition,” but rather an “arbitrary decision,” he said.
State Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, chair of the House Capital Investment Committee, said in a statement that the governor has “shown he wants to spend more and borrow the maximum amount.”
“House Republicans believe government spending should not grow faster than the family budgets of Minnesotans,” Torkelson said. “Going forward our focus is to craft a state budget proposal, and our current targets do not include funds for new debt service.”
The capital investment committee, he said, will “properly vet these projects.”
Rep. Alice Hausman of St. Paul, the DFL lead on the House Capital Investment Committee, said Tuesday that projects will become more expensive next year as construction costs rise, and she cautioned against waiting until the last days of the session to come up with a bonding bill.
“You have to be so careful about bonding bills; you have to get every word right,” she said. “So that idea of a few people getting in a room and some decisions those late nights, that is a high-risk proposition.”
Under Dayton’s plan, the U of M would get $70 million for asset preservation, $18 million for a new veterinary facility on the St. Paul campus, $8 million to design “state of the art” buildings for the medical school and academic health centers, and $4 million for a new St. Paul campus greenhouse.
The U of M says 35 percent of its buildings are more than 50 years old. “These critical maintenance funds bring aging buildings up to code, ensure energy efficiency and enable us to prepare students for successful careers in the 21st century,” U of M President Eric Kaler said in a statement.
MnSCU would also get $70 million for asset preservation and $30 million to improve workforce programs on MnSCU campuses statewide.
Economic development is another key piece of the proposal, accounting for roughly 20 percent of Dayton’s recommendation.
The total pot for economic development includes $50 million for workforce housing, a perennial focus of the Dayton administration. He said the investment would help up to 2,500 households by keeping federally subsidized rentals in place and revamping foreclosed properties.
Other targeted investments underscore the governor’s focus on job-creator projects, ones he positioned as likely to draw in additional private investment and spark growth in their communities.
One of the largest economic development projects would complete Minnesota work on the Lewis & Clark Regional Water System project to streamline water distribution in Worthington and surrounding communities.
The governor’s proposal sets aside another $27 million for local and regional economic development projects. That includes $10 million for upgrades to ports in St. Paul, Duluth and elsewhere to stoke growth in those regions, as well as a $5 million power-generation project in Litchfield and a $4.5 million overhaul of downtown Red Wing, among other projects.
Another $12 million would be available in grants for smaller, community-based projects aimed at business development.
The chair of the Senate Capital Investment Committee, Sen. Leroy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, said in a separate press conference Tuesday that “the infrastructure of the state is in need of money to keep things in shape. And that includes roads and bridges … but also clean water, sanitary sewers, housing — programs that really keep Minnesota on a much higher level than some other states.
“I think in the end, the House will see that need too,” he said. “You have to realize we have a huge number of new members in the Legislature, and thinking about repairing the prison gate at Moose Lake hasn’t really crossed their mind yet, or, some other infrastructure.”
Dayton said state and local entities submitted about $1.9 billion worth of requests for a 2015 bill. Roughly 43 percent of the projects on Dayton’s list are in Greater Minnesota, 38 percent are in the metro and 19 percent have “statewide impacts.”
If no bonding bill is approved this year, the backlog of projects will grow and there will be “over $4 billion in requests, quite easily,” in 2016, Dayton said.
A complete list of Dayton’s recommended projects is available here.
Staff writers Mike Mullen and Karlee Weinmann contributed to this story.