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Drazkowski ties DMC funding to Zip Rail ban

ST. PAUL — Mazeppa Republican Rep. Steve Drazkowski is deploying a new strategy to block a proposed high-speed rail line from Rochester to the Twin Cities — he's tying it to Destination Medical Center funding.

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ST. PAUL — Mazeppa Republican Rep. Steve Drazkowski is deploying a new strategy to block a proposed high-speed rail line from Rochester to the Twin Cities — he's tying it to Destination Medical Center funding.

Drazkowski plans to introduce a bill Monday in the Minnesota House that would give the city of Rochester more flexibility when it comes to funding DMC-related administrative costs. But there's a catch. It would prohibit the city, Olmsted County and the state from spending any money on the proposed Zip Rail project. It would also require the the county's Board of Commissioners to vote by Nov. 15 to approve the ban on Zip Rail funding, or the taxing authority granted to the county for DMC would automatically be revoked.

The GOP lawmaker said the bill has two benefits: It makes sure DMC administrative costs don't end up on residents' property tax bills and it blocks a costly rail project.

"The people are opposed to (Zip Rail) and because of that, I felt compelled to come forward to act on their behalf," Drazkowski said.

Local lawmakers and city officials said they were disappointed by Drazkowski's bill. Olmsted County Commissioner Ken Brown said there continues to be strong interest from private businesses to fully fund construction and operation of Zip Rail. Drazkowski has said he doesn't buy claims that Zip Rail could be funded entirely with private dollars.

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"There's significant interest. So (Drazkowski) can be as skeptical as he wants, but to introduce legislation like this without at least hearing where we are, without giving anybody a chance within the county to respond is unbelievable," Brown said.

As part of the proposal, Zip Rail trains would travel up to 220 mph between Rochester and the Twin Cities. Two possible routes are being considered — one along U.S. Highway 52 and another along Minnesota Highway 56. The project is expected to cost between $2 billion to $4 billion.

House Taxes Committee Chairman Greg Davids, R-Preston, is a co-sponsor of Drazkowski's bill and said he plans to give it a hearing in the tax committee. He said he's strongly opposed to the Zip Rail project.

"I want to stop them from spending millions and millions of dollars on planning for something that's never going to happen," Davids said.

Rochester DFL Rep. KIm Norton said she's not surprised to see lawmakers are playing politics with the DMC funding.

"This is all the game playing that you would expect at the Capitol, so I'm not surprised in the least. I'm disappointed," she said.

In 2013, the Minnesota Legislature approved a $585 million funding package for public infrastructure to support Mayo Clinic's planned $3.5 billion expansion. That legislation led to the creation of the Destination Medical Center Corp. and the Mayo-run DMC Economic Development Agency, which hired consultants to develop the overall DMC development plan. The administrative costs and consulting fees associated with the EDA and DMCC are projected to be $21 million over the next five years..

Rochester city officials want to be able to use funding options authorized under the DMC law to pay for those costs, including extending the city's half-cent sales tax or raising the sales tax by a quarter of a cent. They also want to make sure dollars spent on administrative costs count towards the city's $128 million required match.

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Norton had been pushing to include this language in a DMC funding fix bill that passed earlier in session. But others, including Davids, opposed that move. She has authored her own bill with these changes — minus the ban on Zip Rail funding in Drazkowski's bill. Her bill is slated to get its first House committee hearing on Tuesday.

Rochester City Council President Randy Staver said it doesn't make sense to link the DMC funding with Zip Rail.

"I really see them as two different things, so I think it's unfortunate that we would try to tie them together in this fashion," Staver said.

But Drazkowski defends linking the two together. He said the DMC plans have resulted in a greater push to get the Zip Rail project done

"It's an outcome of DMC. What we are seeing is the very much renewed and expressed effort by proponents of this, the county, DMCC and others to push this forward," he said.

Related Topics: STEVE DRAZKOWSKIGREG DAVIDS
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