Minnesota lawmakers will be hitting the ground running on Tuesday after a week off for Easter/Passover break.
Several major local bills are getting hearings this week, including Mayo Clinic's Destination Medical Center proposal. The request for more than $585 million in public dollars goes before the House Taxes Committee on Tuesday. The committee's chairwoman, Ann Lenczewski, has voiced a number of concerns about the plan's financing.
Mayo Clinic says it will invest $3.5 billion over the next 20 years to expand its Rochester campus and leverage an additional $2 billion. In exchange, the clinic wants a portion of the additional state income, sales, business and corporate taxes its projects will generate to be used to fund public infrastructure upgrades in Rochester. DMC bill author Kim Norton, DFL-Rochester, said she and Mayo officials have been working behind the scenes with Lenczewski to put together funding options.
Several local bonding proposals will also get vetted next week. The Senate Environment, Economic Development and Agriculture Committee is slated to consider a request for $37 million to expand Rochester's Mayo Civic Center on Wednesday. Also getting a hearing are a bill seeking $685,000 to renovate Red Wing's Sheldon Theatre and nearly $1.6 million for upgrades to Red Wing's waterfront.
Sen. Matt Schmit, DFL-Red Wing, is also sponsoring a bill seeking an unspecified number of dollars to buy up land in environmentally sensitive areas where silica sand mining might occur.
Pelowski calls U's Tubby Smith buyout 'obscene'
Minnesota House Higher Education Finance and Policy Committee Chairman Gene Pelowski called the University of Minnesota's $2.5 million buyout of men's basketball coach Tubby Smith "obscene" in an interview on Tuesday.
"I don't think the university has grasped the public reaction to all of this, that it hurts the university not just as an athletic endeavor, it hurts its reputation period," the Winona Democrat said.
News of Smith's buyout comes as the university is seeking millions of dollars in additional state funding. Pelowski said this latest revelation does not help those efforts. He said his committee will likely discuss the matter, but the Legislature has limited control over the university's spending.
"Can we look into it? We can," he said. "We are very limited to what we can do about it. I would hope that the university would take it on its own responsibility to clean its house and refocus those resources into something much more productive."
The DFL-led Legislature is expected to boost funding for higher education this year. The House budget calls for an additional $150 million above forecasted spending, and the Senate's plan allocates an extra $250 million. Pelowski wants those dollars to be used to hold tuition flat after years of increases. He is also working on legislation aimed at requiring the state's colleges and universities to provide more detailed reports to lawmakers of how the additional dollars they get are spent and the results of those investments.
Dayton town hall in Rochester
DFL Gov. Mark Dayton will be in town on Thursday, making the case for his budget proposal. The governor is hosting a town hall forum at 6 p.m. in the Heintz Center Common Area at Rochester Community and Technical College, 1926 Collegeview Road S.E. It's part of a statewide series of forums called "Meetings with Mark," where residents have a chance to weigh in on his budget plans.
Dayton's budget calls for an increase in income taxes on the state's wealthiest 2 percent of residents, along with an increase in the cigarette tax. His plan also calls for a $640 million increase in funding for education, $86.5 million for job creation and $120 million for local government aid aimed at lower property taxes.