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Our view: Bonding bill improves for Duluth

Earlier this week, the News Tribune, via its Opinion page, was rather critical of the Duluth area’s all-DFL legislative delegation because it looked like bonding-bill priorities for our area were falling woefully short. A conference committee has since crunched three proposals from the Senate, House and governor and produced a compromise bill. And things are looking up.

Maybe our elected state leaders have a bit of clout left after all.

The compromise bill still has to be approved by the House, Senate and governor before becoming law. It also has to survive an ill-advised veto threat from Gov. Mark Dayton, who doesn’t like a legislative proposal to stop requiring expensive, unnecessary sprinkler systems to be part of some new-home construction. The governor can let the requirement be overturned, as per lawmakers’ wishes, and he can sign the compromise bonding bill into law.

The compromise includes $6.95 million for the NorShor Theater, the amount the city of Duluth requested to make the state a partner in an eastern-downtown rebirth that has a total price tag of about $24 million.

Lake Superior College and Spirit Mountain also would get their full requests under the compromise. For the college that means $5.27 million to renovate its health facility, including the physical therapy and dental hygiene programs. And for the ski hill it means $3.4 million toward a $6.2 million project to draw water for snowmaking from the St. Louis River rather than from city water supplies. A local investment is to be added to the state’s contribution.

All that said, before our delegation of lawmakers starts feeling too good about itself, it can note a few Duluth-area projects fell short — and even far short — of requests. That included

$1 million for the Northeast Regional Corrections Facility, $3 million short of its request for overdue upgrades; $700,000 for a storage facility in Virginia for the St. Louis County Rescue Squad, shy of its $837,500 request; and only $2.3 million of the $5.7 million sought for badly needed improvements to historic Wade Stadium in West Duluth.

“It addresses the most pressing needs (at Wade) versus the nice-to-haves,” Sen. Roger Reinert told the News Tribune for a story yesterday.

That’s debatable. The WPA-built, World War II-era brickyard ballpark has walls that literally are falling down. After the Gophers, Vikings and even St. Paul Saints won state money for stadiums in recent years, the Wade should have been in line for full consideration and funding.

But no allocation is coming up shorter in the bonding bill than the $1.5 million to the University of Minnesota Duluth for a chemical sciences building. The university requested $24 million. The good news is the $1.5 million is being seen as a first installment for predesign work, and past projects that received predesign money generally got full funding in following years.

The Legislature tackles a bonding bill every other session. The spending for public amenities and improvements is the heart of legislative sessions held on even-numbered years like this one. No community can expect to get all it asks for. And Duluth can be grateful its showing in the bill didn’t go as dire as it seemed just a few days ago.