Bid to fully fund Mayo Civic Center fails in House
ST. PAUL — House lawmakers defeated an attempt by a Rochester lawmaker on Wednesday to fully fund the Mayo Civic Center expansion project.
The House Democrats' bonding bill allocates $30 million for the civic center project — that's $7 million less than the city of Rochester requested. Rep. Kim Norton, DFL-Rochester, offered an amendment to the bill that would take funding from Winona State University's Education Village project and give some of it to the civic center.
Norton noted that Winona State University had requested only $5.9 million for its project this year, but the House decided to fund the entire $22 million project. Her proposal would have left $5.9 million in the bill for the WSU project, given $7 million to the civic center project and allocated the rest to a local road fund.
But her proposal quickly ran into opposition from members of both sides of the aisle. Even before she presented the amendment, she got a call from the Speaker of the House Paul Thissen and had to step out of committee. When she returned, House Capital Investment Committee Chairwoman Alice Hausman told Norton she opposed the move because she is a huge supporter of the Winona project.
"I believe that this education village has the potential to become the shining star, to train the best teachers," she said.
Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, also opposed Norton's move.
"I find it disconcerting that the Norton amendment would take from my alma mater and give to the civic center that's already in the bill at $30 million," he said.
A visibly angry Norton said she was disappointed she could not get support from fellow lawmakers. She also said she is tired of hearing lawmakers tell her Rochester should not get any more funding in the wake of last year's $585 million funding package for Destination Medical Center. She noted those dollars only start flowing if and when significant construction has already been completed.
"If you build, money will roll your way for infrastructure to support for your city. That has not happened. There was no truck load of money that left the Capitol and trundled down Highway 52 to Rochester, Minnesota," she said.
"Time and time again I hear members from my caucus and members from the other side of the aisle misrepresent what happened last year and act as though the third-largest city in the state needs to now close their mouth and never ask for anything again."
This is the eighth straight year Rochester has sought funding for the $81 million expansion project, which would add state-of-the-art convention space to the building with the goal of attracting national and international medical conferences to the city.
Rep. John Ward, DFL-Baxter, told Norton lots of people are disappointed with the $975 million construction proposal because it is simply not enough to address the backlog of needs in the state. But he said Rochester's civic center request fares well in the proposal.
"When you are going to get 83 percent of an appropriation, that is not too bad," he said.
Norton countered that the project cannot be done for $30 million.
"Eighty-two percent of a project that must have 100 percent in order to be built is not useful. That is 82 percent of nothing," Norton said.
The committee ultimately defeated Norton's amendment on a 9-12 vote.
Senate Democrats still have yet to unveil their bonding proposal.
Norton said in an interview Thursday morning that she is not giving up on trying to get full funding for the civic center project.
"We'll definitely live to fight another day," she said. "This is just round one."