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Duluth leaders pleased by final bonding bill

Minnesota state Rep. Frank Hornstein, D-Minneapolis, draws laughs from a bipartisan group of House members as midnight neared Thursday, May 15, 2014. From left are Reps. Dan Fabian, R-Roseau, John Ward, D-Baxter, Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, Tom Anzelc, D-Balsam Township, and Jerry Hertas, R-Greenfield. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Duluth Mayor Don Ness and other local leaders Friday welcomed passage of funding for local projects included in the statewide bonding measure expected to be signed soon by Gov. Mark Dayton.

“This is a very good bill for the city of Duluth,” Ness said in a statement. “All three of these projects are important for our city. These funds will help create hundreds of new construction and permanent jobs and serve as a major boost to our local economy.”

The bill contains money for the city’s three legislative priorities: the Wade Stadium renovation, the Spirit Mountain water project, and the NorShor Theatre restoration. Public construction projects across the state will receive more than $1 billion, while some Minnesotans’ property taxes will fall slightly after legislators wrapped up two key bills Friday.

When Dayton signs the measure, public works projects will receive $857 million obtained by the state selling bonds, with another $199 million coming from a state budget surplus. The Capitol building is the biggest single project, getting $126 million to finish a multiyear renovation project.

Higher education construction spending for the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities campuses totals $240 million.

Wade Stadium received $2.3 million

for repairs — including new artificial turf. Although it will not cover the original $5.7 million request, it allows for necessary short-term improvements, with the option to request additional funding in the future.

“The new turf in particular will mean less rain delays and cancellations for our team this summer, and the new lights will allow us to schedule more evening games,” Craig Smith, general manager of the Duluth Huskies, one of the stadium’s users, said in a statement.

Spirit Mountain is poised to receive $3.4 million for to buy land and build a system to deliver water to the ski facility directly from the St. Louis River to make snow.

“(This) is really a game-changer for the resort,” Renee Mattson, executive director of Spirit Mountain, said in a statement about the resort’s ability to open three weeks earlier in the season with the aid of the delivery system.

The bill also included $6.95 million for restoration of the NorShor Theatre in downtown Duluth.

While public construction spending is significant, tax cuts are in the cards this year as well.

As this year’s legislative session wound down, lawmakers lowered property taxes $103 million, making the year’s total tax cut $556 million in two tax bills.

Just one lawmaker voted against the Friday tax bill, which features an average $410 tax relief for Minnesotans who live on their farms.

Homeowners will see a one-time increase in homestead credit refunds of 3 percent, an average of $837 per home. Renters’ credit refunds will go up 6 percent, an average of $643.

Friday’s tax bill also:

* Provides $4.5 million this year and $10 million a year in the future for 83 counties to manage aquatic invasive species prevention programs.

* Gives 14 rural counties a $500-per-person payment to recruit and retain volunteer first responders, such as firefighters.

* Allows National Guard members’ military pay to be treated like active-duty personnel, lowering their taxes.

* Gives $4.5 million in tax breaks that five cities near North Dakota and South Dakota can give businesses and apartment properties.

* Requires study on the Minnesota impact of the North Dakota oil boom.

Local government aid for cities will go up $10 million after lawmakers boosted it $80 million last year. County Program Aid the state increased last year helped most counties, but 11 rural ones ended up losing money; Friday’s bill provides one-time payments to those counties.

Sen. David Osmek, R-Mound, said last year’s attempt to lower property taxes by giving local governments more state money did not work because property taxes rose.

“I think we need to be very careful,” Osmek said. “Giving local government more money doesn’t equate to tax decreases, it just equates to more spending.”

The bonding bill passed the House and Senate easily, but there were complaints.

Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, said the bill contains plenty of money for Minneapolis and St. Paul, but not enough for the rest of the state. For instance, he said, dams across the state are falling apart and state aid is needed to fix them.

He also complained that the bill lacks enough money for local roads and bridges.

The bonding bill contains money to build University of Minnesota Twin Cities laboratories to study bees and aquatic invasive species.

Key public works project numbers

Some figures from public works funding bills Minnesota legislators passed Friday:

* Capitol building renovation, $126 million

* University of Minnesota and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities asset preservation and replacement, $43 million each

* University of Minnesota Tate laboratory renovation, Minneapolis, $57 million

* Red Lake school construction, $6 million

* Flood prevention programs, $12 million

* Vermilion State Park development, $14 million

* State trail acquisition and development, $17.7 million

* Local bridge replacement, $33 million

* Local road improvements, $54 million

* Minnesota State Security Hospital, St. Peter, remodel, $56 million

* Minnesota Sex Offender Program, St. Peter, remodel, $7 million

* Corrections Department improvements, $18 million

* Housing aid, $100 million

Forum News Service