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Dayton suggests $986 million construction borrowing

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton took the first step in what has become an annual political dance about funding construction projects. Dayton unveiled on Wednesday his suggestion to borrow $986 million for construction projects across Minne...

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton makes announcement Wednesday
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton announces Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014, that he wants the state to borrow nearly $1 billion to fund construction projects. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton took the first step in what has become an annual political dance about funding construction projects.

Dayton unveiled on Wednesday his suggestion to borrow $986 million for construction projects across Minnesota, ranging from a snow-making effort at a northeastern ski facility to continuing a water project in the southwest, from expanding civic centers in the south to building a wellness center in the northwest.

Fellow Democrats, in the legislative majority, praised Dayton's plan as a good starting point. Republicans called it too pricey. If there is to be a bill funding the projects, Dayton must persuade some Republicans to dance with him because with a supermajority needed to pass a construction funding bill, there are not enough Democrats to do it by themselves.

"This jobs bill would address many of our economic development needs," Dayton said, claiming 27,000 jobs would be created.

Two broad categories would use more than half of the money that Dayton suggested spending. Education projects, mostly at state-owned colleges and universities, total $265 million of Dayton's request, with economic development initiatives taking $232 million.

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The Dayton administration said 38 percent of the funds would go to the seven-county Twin Cities area, 34 percent is targeted to other areas and 28 percent is proposed for statewide programs.

Key to his plan is $63 million for civic center improvements in Rochester, Mankato and St. Cloud.

The University of Minnesota and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities systems would get more than a quarter of Dayton's askings. Each would receive $40 million to repair and modernize campus facilities.

MNSCU would have $74 million to upgrade science, technology engineering and math classrooms.

The biggest single higher education project would spend $57 million to renovate a University of Minnesota Twin Cities science and teaching building. Also included is $10 million for a Crookston campus wellness center, which the Dayton administration called a regionally significant project.

Among the projects many Republicans and Democrats alike support is continuation of a Capitol building renovation project. The Democratic governor proposes finishing funding for the multi-year project with $126 million, nearly 13 percent of his total construction plan.

Other projects likely will be controversial, such as a $3.4 million plan to buy land and construct a water system for snowmaking at northeastern Minnesota's Spirit Mountain ski area.

"Today's wish list is another example of Gov. Dayton asking hardworking Minnesotans to overpay for things they would never buy for their families or small businesses ..." said Rep. Matt Dean, R-Dellwood. "The list includes some worthwhile projects. We should focus on taking better care of the buildings we already have before literally growing the footprint of government -- that will provide more work, faster for trades across the state."

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Specifically, Dean was critical of the snowmaking request as well as one to build a new $5 million facility at Giants Ridge, also in northeastern Minnesota. He said the Giants Ridge request would build a "chalet for the governor's friends."

Dayton clearly was concerned about getting GOP votes for a substantial construction plan. He said he was "astonished" that when "extreme right-wing" Republicans held legislative control in 2011 and 2012, they did not support civic centers and other projects he considers good for the economy.

Democrats were receptive to the Dayton plan.

"The money listed in the governor's bonding proposals will go a long way toward strengthening both the infrastructure and the economy in our state," said Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, D-Plummer, who leads a committee looking at construction projects. "The governor and Senate Capital Investment Committee saw a lot of need throughout the state during our tours this fall; the committee members and I look forward to releasing our own proposal in the coming months."

Construction projects are funded by the state selling bonds, which Minnesota repays with interest over decades.

Bonding bills usually pass in even-numbered years like this. They provide an economic stimulus across the state just before incumbents are up for election in November.

Other items in the Dayton bonding proposal include:

• $12 million to help businesses expand in rural Minnesota, a proposal coming after he replaced a rural-oriented economic development program, Job Opportunity Building Zones, with a statewide program on Jan. 1.

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• $23 million to preserve existing Department of Natural Resources facilities and $20 million for parks, trails and other DNR infrastructure.

• $63 million to remodel and construct facilities at the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter, including improving the sex offender treatment facility.

• $16 million for greater Minnesota transit, ports, rail and safe routes to school projects.

• $30 million for local bridges and $10 million for local road improvements.

• $71 million for projects involving drinking water and sewage treatment.

• $50 million to build and rehabilitate housing statewide.

• $5 million to build a fence around the women's prison in Shakopee, a project long sought by area residents.

• $1.8 million to fund renovations at state veterans' homes in Luverne and Silver Bay.

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Something not in Dayton's proposal was money to develop the state's newest state park, along the shores of Lake Vermilion. Dayton said that since his family owns land on the lake, he wants to avoid a conflict of interest and will not take a stand on the project.

Interestingly, on Wednesday the state Senate bonding committee used its website to feature the park request for $25 million to build new recreational facilities, including camping areas, sanitation buildings, boat launch sites, welcome plaza, Stuntz Bay picnic area, Cable Bay recreation area and a road connecting Soudan Underground Mine and Lake Vermilion State Park.

Dayton said funding improvements, such as the nearly $7 million he seeks to renovate Duluth's NorShore Theatre into an arts center, are vital for downtowns across the state. He said his father and uncles, Minnesota businessmen who began Dayton's Department Store and Target, taught him the importance of such economic development projects.

He said that such projects, including the Spirit Mountain snowmaking proposal and other civic center construction, are good examples of projects that help an entire region.

"They are mistakes on their part," Dayton said of Republican votes against what he calls economic development projects.

The NorShor project would cost more than $22 million in total, but Dayton proposed $7 million of state money. State funds would be used to allow skywalk and handicapped accessibility as well as providing better general public access.

Southwest Minnesota has waited for years for completion of a water project. However, the federal government ended funding of the Lewis and Clark project, so Dayton said the state needs to take over.

The governor included $20 million to resume work on the project, enough to provide water to Luverne. But, he said, his goal is in future years to extend water service to Worthington, too.

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Southwestern Minnesota communities "have had to restrain their growth because of lack of sufficient water," he said.

Dayton would complete state funding to improve Red Lake schools.

The governor's proposal would spend $5.5 million to finish building the high school and middle school cafeteria, with $8 million to finish elementary school construction.

Red Lake has requested funding for years, but never received enough to finish work it sought.

Unlike former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who said projects should be of statewide or strong regional significance, Dayton proposes some relatively small local projects. An example is a Fosston request for $400,000 to improve Second Street South, to bring the road to 10-ton capacity.

Key bonding numbers

$986 million: Amount of state bonds that would be sold

$1.4 billion: State bonds, as well as other spending such as from local governments

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Nearly $3 billion: Requests for bonding funds

$265 million: Amount education projects would receive

$232 million: Amount economic development projects would receive

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