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Minnesota Senate chairman: 'Not one nickel more' for bonding

Minnesota state Rep. Sarah Anderson of Plymouth, chairwoman of the House state government committee, announces that Dayton administration officials refused to testify on her plan to use reserve funds to pay for veteran home construction. Don Davis / Forum News Service1 / 2
A Minnesota House committee listens to testimony Wednesday, May 9, about funding new veterans' homes via a stadium reserve fund. Don Davis / Forum News Service2 / 2

ST. PAUL—Gov. Mark Dayton needs to accept a smaller public works bill, the Minnesota Senate chairman in charge of the issue says.

"I don't have a nickel more to spend on bonding," Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, said Wednesday, May 9, after releasing his public works funding bill.

Democrat Dayton earlier this year unveiled a $1.5 billion bonding bill, a proposal that did not include local projects that he said merit funding, leaving him supporting $2.3 billion in public works projects.

When the House revealed its public works bill, to be funded by the state selling bonds, Dayton expressed his disappointment with, "Where's the other half?"

Lawmakers in both houses say there likely are not enough Republican votes to pass a bonding bill much bigger than $825 million, which would be repaid by general tax revenue. When all funds are figured in, both legislative bills are close to $1 billion.

"We have to pass a bill," Senjem said. "He (Dayton) doesn't have to pass a bill."

Senjem needs Democratic votes to pass his bill, but the top Democrat on his committee did not seem happy with the legislation.

"It is woefully inadequate in its investments in public safety, higher education and preserving state assets," Sen. Sandy Pappas, D-St. Paul, said. "The bill ignores urgently needed investments to build world-class colleges and universities, and repair state buildings and other critical infrastructure across Minnesota."

If the legislation were to pass, it would mean lawmakers approved the biggest-ever bonding spending during a two-year session: $1.8 billion for projects funded by general tax revenue and $2.2 billion when all funds are included.

Road and bridge projects, state and local, account for nearly 30 percent of the Senate's total bonding package. Higher education comes in at 18 percent, and water and sewage treatment sits at 10 percent.

House bonding Chairman Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, said he had yet to see the Senate plan, but he expects the two legislative plans to be similar. However, the proposal Dayton offered earlier this year is far different.

Senjem said his bill earmarks money for projects more than the Urdahl bill.

For instance, the Senjem bill specifically includes $175 million to rebuild U.S. 14 from Owatonna to Dodge Center, near Senjem's district. (He said Senate Republicans, regardless of where they live, back the long-delayed construction.)

The Senate bill is heavy on repair work at state-owned colleges and universities ($160 million) and provides $80 million for mental health needs.

On top of the $825 million general bonding proposal, the Senate GOP would sell $224 million in highway bonds to fund road and bridge projects. Local roads and bridges would get $81 million of that. The largest single project in the Senate plan is nearly $174 million to rebuild U.S. 14.

Clean-water projects, mostly constructing water and sewage treatment plants, have been priorities for the governor and both legislative bodies.

One of the most-watched issues is the $32 million the bill includes to build veterans' homes in Bemidji, Montevideo and Preston. The state money is to match federal funds to build the homes, which would not open for several years.

While the Senate put veterans' home money in its bonding proposal, the House is considering taking what is considered excess money from a fund to pay for U.S. Bank Stadium. On Wednesday, a House committee examined the idea, which representatives already have passed.

Currently, five state veterans' homes serve Minnesota. Existing ones house 824 people, and the three new ones would add 216 units. The three facilities would cost $180 million, according to the House GOP. The federal government would pay 65 percent of the cost.

Dayton's finance commissioner, Myron Frans, had said he would attend the meeting, committee Chairwoman Sarah Anderson, R-Plymouth, said. However, shortly before the meeting, he let her know he would not be there. Frans sent Anderson a letter saying that the Dayton administration opposes using the stadium fund because it does not provide enough money. The traditional way of paying for such projects is selling bonds, and taking out funds from the stadium would make the stadium reserve too small.

Senate bonding plan highlights

  • $825 million to be repaid with general tax revenues
  • $224 million from trunk highway bonds
  • $66 million for local roads
  • $15 million for local bridge replacements
  • $13 millon for military armories
  • $18 million for food shelves
  • $24 million to renovate Pillsbury Hall on the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus
  • More than $22 million each for work on Bemidji State University and Rochester Community and Technical College buildings.
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.