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Dayton statewide construction plan, local projects could top $2.3 billion

Interim Chancellor Devinder Malhotra of the Minnesota State college and university system says on Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018, that Gov. Mark Dayton's bonding proposal would be good for his 54 campuses around the state. Don Davis / Forum News Service1 / 3
President Eric Kaler of the University of Minnesota says on Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018, that now is the time to repair buildings on campuses around the state. Don Davis / Forum News Service2 / 3
Commissioner Myron Frans of Minnesota Management and Budget announces a $1.5 billion public works proposal Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018. With him is President Eric Kaler of the University of Minnesota. Don Davis / Forum News Service3 / 3

ST. PAUL—Gov. Mark Dayton might support borrowing more than $2.3 billion for public works projects this year, his last in elective office.

He announced a $1.5 billion proposal Tuesday, Jan. 16, but the governor's office also reports that he feels $858 million in local projects "merit state investments," but he did not include them in his proposal.

The public works proposal, known as the bonding bill, is looking to be much like other plans Dayton has released since taking office in 2011: He calls for big bonding bills while Republicans want to shrink them.

Dayton, who a spokesman said was sick "with a bad cold" Tuesday, said in a statement that "years of underinvestment have shortchanged our economy, our higher education institutions and the vitality of our communities." He has said he will not run for office again, so this is his last chance to get lawmakers to approve some projects that are near to his heart.

Republicans who control the House and Senate left no doubt they cannot buy into the Democratic governor's plan.

Senate bonding Chairman Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, called it "a bonding bill that busts the budget."

Democrats, whose votes are needed to pass a bonding bill, were happy.

"Now that we have the governor's recommendations, the Legislature can move forward and craft a robust, balanced bill," Rep. Alice Hausman, D-St. Paul, said. "Minnesota communities are counting on the Legislature to help them fund and improve water infrastructure facilities, housing, higher education and upgrade unsafe railroad crossings, among other critical requests."

The House bonding chairman, Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, said the Dayton plan would have "an uphill battle," in part because he did not include local projects. Usually, bonding bills must include local projects to get enough votes to pass.

"Last session, the Legislature passed a $1 billion, geographically balanced bonding bill which focused heavily on infrastructure and transportation needs," Urdahl said. "Any bill that takes shape this year will need to follow that same blueprint. By contrast, the governor's proposal fails to include any of the critical local infrastructure projects that are critical to any bonding bill's success."

Dayton's bonding plan includes some local projects, especially ones to improve water quality.

More than a third of the $1.5 billion would be designated for state-run colleges and universities, mostly making repairs and improvements on existing buildings. The rest would go to improve other state buildings, construct affordable housing, upgrade clean water facilities and construct other projects in all parts of Minnesota.

Commissioner Myron Frans of Minnesota Management and Budget said about $3 billion in public works funding requests were given to the Dayton administration.

Frans, who filled in for the governor Tuesday in announcing the public works requests, said the plan "would support statewide economic growth" and would be well under the $3.5 billion figure guidelines say the state could afford.

The commissioner called the projects Dayon backed "urgently needed."

For the most part, especially for colleges and universities, the list emphasized repair work on existing buildings. However, both the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota State systems also would get major renovation and construction money from the Dayton plan.

"This recommendation today aligns perfectly with my vision," President Eric Kaler of the University of Minnesota said.

Interim Chancellor Devinder Malhotra said Minnesota State's 54 campuses in 47 communities would be able to improve workforce training with the funds.

Public works projects are funded by the state selling bonds, leading to the construction proposal being called a "bonding bill." Frans said that while bond interest rates are higher than a year ago, Minnesota still can get very good rates.

Besides routine repair work, some of the big-dollar projects Dayton wants funded include:

• $15 million for Bemidji State University academic center, with another $15 million for a Rochester Community and Technical College project.

• $24 million to renovate the University of Minnesota's Pillsbury Hall classroom facilities.

• $20 million to update the Minnesota Agriculture and Health departments' laboratories.

• $14 million to expand and improve Red Lake schools.

• $16 million to improve Minnesota Sex Offender Program facilities.

• $25 million to improve National Guard facilities in St. Cloud, Wadena, Brainerd, Grand Rapids, Rosemount and Fergus Falls.

Bonding highlights

Here are some key figures from Gov. Mark Dayton's proposed public works spending:

• $1.5 billion total borrowing to be repaid by taxes

• $858 million for local projects not in the proposal, but that he believed "merit state investment."

• $458 million to preserve state facilities

• $299 million for University of Minnesota system

• $243 million for Minnesota State system

• $167 million for clean water projects

• $115 million to build affordable housing

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.