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Civic center expansion gets a boost in House

ST. PAUL — The city of Rochester's push to get state funding to expand the Mayo Civic Center got a double dose of good news Monday.

Not only did the Senate DFL bonding bill include $34.5 million for the project, but House Democrats are putting forward a revised bonding proposal that calls for boosting funding for the project from $30 million to $35 million. That amendment to the House bonding bill will be introduced today in the House Ways and Means Committee.

Rep. Kim Norton, DFL-Rochester, said she is pleased to see House DFL leadership supporting more funding for the civic center project. The city originally had requested $37 million for the project.

"It's an improvement," Norton said. "I had hoped for the full $37 million, but we're pleased that we've gotten it to $35 million."

This is the seventh straight year the city of Rochester has sought funding for the $82 million project. The plan calls for building a 188,000-square-foot addition to the civic center, which would house state-of-the-art convention space. Supporters of the project say it would attract national and international medical conferences to the city. The city's $45 million share of the project would come from an already approved 3 percent increase in the lodging tax.


Gov. Mark Dayton's $975 million bonding proposal recommended the full $37 million project. With the civic center making it into all three proposals, it would appear to be well positioned. But the project has its share of critics.

A group of House and Senate Republicans held a Capitol news conference in which they criticized the Democrats' bonding proposals for failing to focus on key priorities such as transportation, drinking water and repairing state-owned buildings. They put together an $850 million bonding proposal that spends $126 million to restore the Minnesota Capitol, $300 million for road and bridge repair, $69 million for the Lewis and Clark water pipeline in southwest Minnesota and more than $200 million in projects that would be negotiated with legislative leaders and the governor.

Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, said Democrats' construction proposals fail to take care of the state's most urgent needs.

"We've heard a lot about the need for more road and bridge funding throughout the state of Minnesota," Drazkowski said. "We have a golden opportunity in front of us. So is this bonding bill going to be about fixing roads and bridges, or is it going to be about cherries on a spoon and snowmaking equipment?"

Drazkowski also criticized funding civic center projects in Rochester, St. Cloud and Mankato that he said would just end up competing with each other for business.

The Senate Capital Investment Committee is expected to consider amendments to its construction plan and vote on the bill this evening.

Throughout the session, Democrats have been trying to convince Republicans to back a bonding bill larger than the $850 million figure agreed upon by legislative leaders. That's critical because bonding bills require a three-fifths majority vote in order to pass, meaning some Republicans have to vote for it. But so far, Republicans have refused to budge.

Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, said he sees zero chance his colleagues will go for a larger bonding bill. He also said House Republicans will end up writing the bill because Democrats need at least eight of them to vote for it. To win them over, he said there will have to be funding for the Lewis and Clark pipeline. He also said, in order for him to consider voting for a bonding bill, it would have to include funding for the Chatfield Center for the Arts. The House version has $8 million for the Chatfield project, but the Senate proposal has no funding.


"I will not vote for a bonding bill that does not fund the Chatfield Center for the Arts. Period. End of story," Davids said.

To get around Republicans' unwillingness to get behind a larger bonding bill, Democrats have turned to cash this session. The House has proposed spending $125 million in cash on construction projects, while the Senate is proposing spending close to $200 million. But the governor made clear on Monday that he is not a fan of the approach. He sent legislative leaders a letter saying he would rather lawmakers bond for construction projects than use up the state's remaining budget surplus.

"I continue to believe that the use of cash in a bonding bill contradicts its very purpose and that cash should not be used for major capital investments," Dayton wrote.

He went on to write that, "Those legislators who oppose a larger bonding bill should be held responsible for the important projects throughout our state, which will not be funded due to their short-sightedness."

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