Dayton's $1.4 billion bonding plan elicits cheers, jeers
Reaction to DFL Gov. Mark Dayton's $1.4 billion statewide construction proposal was swift on Friday, with some lawmakers praising the package for addressing the state's crumbling infrastructure while others blasted it for being too large.
Sen. Matt Schmit, DFL-Red Wing, welcomed the governor's proposal.
"The need is there and we have the capacity to bond more than we have in the past. Interest rates remain incredibly low, and I think it's a great opportunity for us to catch up on the backlog of worthy projects, put Minnesotans to work and invest some of our resources wisely," Schmit said.
But Preston Republican Rep. Greg Davids said the governor's construction borrowing plan is far too big.
"The governor's numbers are quite unrealistic, but it's a start. The way it work it's his job to propose, then it's our job to go through it, analyze it and come up with one that can pass," he said.
Davids said he thinks a bonding bill of $800 million to $900 million would be able to garner the necessary legislative support. He also took issue with Dayton leaving out a couple of projects from his district in the bill — $8 million for phase two of the Chatfield Center for the Arts renovation and more than $3 million to repair the Lanesboro dam.
"It's unfortunate that the governor doesn't support the Lanesboro Dam or the Chatfield project, but now I'll get to work and see what I can put together," Davids said.
In a conference call with reporter, Dayton pushed back against those criticizing the size of his bonding proposal, saying they should have to specify what projects they want to see cut.
"We had $3.7 billion of requests, over 90 percent of which were really solid projects and seriously, if not urgently, needed," Dayton said. "So even my $1.4 billion proposal would fund only 37 percent of those eligible and well-qualified projects."
Dayton's bonding proposal would fund 23 projects costing $91 million in southeast Minnesota. It would create an estimated 2,594 jobs in the region. Statewide, the governor's office estimates the bill would create 39,900 jobs.
Rochester Mayor Ardell Brede said he was pleased to see the governor had fully funded the city's $5 million request to help expand the U.S. customs facility at Rochester International Airport. The airport had been warned its current facility does not meet U.S. Department of Homeland Security standards and is at risk of losing its international designation.
"We're obviously very excited about that and pleased," Brede said.
He added that if the project fails to advance, "I don't think we can call ourselves (an international airport), so it's something that is extremely important."
The governor's plan also includes $13.6 million of the $20 million requested by Rochester Community and Technical College to demolish Plaza and Memorial halls and construct a 20,000-square-foot building. The plan also calls for renovating 11,000-square-feet of space.
Dayton said he sees that project as being very important for the future of Rochester as the $6 billion Destination Medical Center initiative advances.
"Mayo and its Destination Medical Center expansion is dependent in significant part on that college being able to provide it with the skilled personnel necessary for their expansion, so that college has a vital role in the economic growth of Rochester and that region," Dayton said.
Some local projects did fail to make it into the governor's proposal. The Reading Center/Dyslexia Institute of Minnesota is seeking $1.5 million for an expansion in order to accommodate growing demand for its services. Olmsted County has partnered with the center on the project and would own the building.
Rochester DFL Rep. Tina Liebling said she toured The Reading Center on Friday and supports their request. She said Rochester's three major projects — the airport, RCTC and The Reading Center — should do well in the 2016 session.
"It seems to me that we have a very modest set of requests this year given the size of our city. We're the third largest city, so I think that if we have a reasonable size bonding bill, it's not unreasonable for us to see all three of our projects funded," Liebling said.
Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, said she was very pleased to the see the Rochester International Airport project and RCTC request make it into the governor's proposal. She said she's hopeful that other projects — including The Reading Center and the Chester Woods Trail extension — will make it into a final plan. As for the $1.4 billion price tag, Nelson said that will likely be a tough sell to lawmakers.
"It's certainly larger than I think what many would feel comfortable with," Nelson said.
Dayton told reporters that when it comes to The Reading Center project and Chatfield Center for the Arts, his decision not to include it in the proposal had to do with limited dollars — not the worthiness of the projects.
Advocates for projects that failed to make it into the governor's proposal say they aren't giving up. House and Senate lawmakers will be crafting their own bill when they return to St. Paul in March. Chatfield City Clerk Joel Young said he will be meeting with the governor's staff and key lawmakers on Thursday to help make the case for the art center project.
"We just don't allow them to forget about us," Young said.
Similarly, Lanesboro Mayor Robin Krom said he will be pushing hard to get $3.6 million to repair Lanesboro's 148-year-old dam. Krom said if the dam fails, it has the potential to result in loss of life and damage to property.
Krom added, "We still will work through the governor's office, as well as our legislative offices, to do whatever we can to make that (funding) happen."