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Bonding leader urges officials to push for bill

Rep. Jay McNamar of Elbow Lake listens Tuesday, April 9, 2013, as a House committee hears a public works projects funding proposal. (Don Davis/Forum News Service)

ST. PAUL -- Communities across Minnesota should pressure lawmakers to support a public works funding bill, its House sponsor says.

“I think those local communities absolutely have a vested interest in this bill,” Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, said Tuesday after introducing her $800 million measure to fund projects ranging from renovating the state Capitol building to fixing college roofs.

She used Red Wing as an example.

“Red Wing wants this bill desperately,” she said, because of provisions that would help with Mississippi River flood protection and a trail while at the same time improving access to a grain terminal that loads up to 500 barges a year.

Hausman said Red Wing officials need to persuade local legislators to support the overall public works projects bill, to be funded by the state selling bonds.

The Capital Investment Committee chairwoman’s message was that her bonding bill needs a wide range of support.

“I need all the Democrats to vote for it, and I need eight Republicans,” she said.

The bill includes a number of projects that would impact residents in District 12A. According to Rep. Jay McNamar, D-Elbow Lake, local impacts include:

• $990,000 for Higher Ed Asset Preservation Repairs at the U of M, Morris

• $800,000 for the Rainbow Rider Transit System to construct bus garages in Elbow Lake, Morris, Wheaton, Lowry, and Alexandria

• $3 million for a School Energy Efficiency Fund Loan Program to help schools across the state make improvements to their infrastructure

“These infrastructure projects are a wise investment,” said McNamar. “When you put these off, they only get more expensive. I’m especially proud that my proposal to create an energy efficiency fund was included because it will help our rural schools make improvements to their buildings that can save them a lot of money long term.”

Republicans were not ready to commit to the bill.

“Our caucus priority is not on a bonding bill at this point,” Rep. Matt Dean, R-Dellwood said, adding that a state budget needs to pass first.

Hausman said the bill would help Minnesota continue its recovery from recession.

“As Minnesota’s economy continues to recover, this bill will go a long way to helping put people to work while improving and preserving our critical statewide infrastructure repairs,” Hausman said. “Many of these projects are shovel- and paint-ready and can be started almost immediately.”

The Hausman bill looks a lot like a public works funding plan Gov. Mark Dayton released Monday.

A committee vote on the House bill is set for Thursday. There is no indication when, or whether, the Senate will produce its own bonding bill.

Like the Dayton bill, the House plan’s biggest project is $109 million to step up renovation of the 108-year-old Capitol. Another $94 million or $95 million would be needed next year to complete the multiyear project.

Dean said he would prefer that $109 million slated for state Capitol building renovation be presented in a separate bill rather than folded into a measure with more controversial issues.

An issue Hausman admitted will be controversial is her decision not to spend $54.1 million that Dayton wants to update a Minneapolis veterans’ home building.

Hausman said a comprehensive plan is needed about how to best serve veterans, perhaps moving away from sending many to Minneapolis. Some legislators are pushing for veterans’ homes in Bemidji, Brainerd and elsewhere, but Hausman wondered whether they could be better served in nursing homes or their own homes.

The $5.3 million Hausman includes in her bill would fund improvements in existing veterans’ homes, including in Fergus Falls, Hastings, Luverne and Silver Bay.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.