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Political Notebook: Dayton to unveil bonding proposal

It's a big week for Minnesota communities vying for a chance to be part of a statewide construction borrowing bill.

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It's a big week for Minnesota communities vying for a chance to be part of a statewide construction borrowing bill.

DFL Gov. Mark Dayton has until Friday to unveil his bonding proposal. Competition to be part of the funding package is intense, with requests outnumbering funding more than three-to-one. Making it into the governor's plan can give projects a boost as House and Senate lawmakers sit down to craft their own proposals.

The city of Rochester is seeking nearly $5 million from the state to upgrade the U.S. Customs facility at Rochester International Airport. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has told the airport the existing facility fails to meet federal requirements and if it is not upgraded, the airport could lose its international designation, becoming Rochester Municipal Airport. The project's total price tag is $10.5 million. The city of Rochester would chip in $2.8 million in local sales tax dollars, and the airport would dedicate two years of Federal Aviation Administration dollars to come up with the remaining $2.7 million.

Rochester Community and Technical College also has a major request. The college wants $20 million to demolish Plaza and Memorial halls and construct a new 20,000-square-foot building and renovate 11,000-square-feet of existing space.

Other communities in Southeast Minnesota are also looking for dollars. Red Wing is requesting $4.5 million for its "River Town Renaissance Project," which would help fund upgrades to the city's waterfront and renovate the historic Sheldon Theatre. Chatfield is requesting nearly $8 million to complete the second phase of renovations to the Chatfield Center for the Arts.


Historically, the Legislature passes large bonding bills in even-numbered years. In recent years, those bills have hovered around the $1 billion mark. Bonding bills are unique because they require a supermajority to pass the Legislature. That means any final proposal needs to have the support of both Democrats and Republicans.

Rochester chamber joins fight for U.S. 14 expansion

The Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce has joined a coalition fighting to get funding to finish the expansion of U.S. 14 from Rochester to New Ulm. The U.S. Highway 14 Partnership issued a news release announcing the local chamber had signed on, meaning that now every chamber of commerce between Rochester and New Ulm has joined the group.

"The fact that we have every chamber of commerce in the area in the Partnership highlights just how important the completion of the Highway 14 project is to economic development in our region," said Dodge County Commissioner Steve Gray in a statement. Gray serves as the partnership's vice president.

The partnership wants lawmakers to pass a comprehensive transportation funding package in the upcoming session that dedicates at least $200 million per year for the Corridors of Commerce program. The program was created by the Minnesota Legislature in 2013 and is aimed at funding projects that will improve or preserve freight movement, reduce barriers to commerce and increase highway capacity. In 2014, $7.3 million was awarded to purchase right-of-way for the planned expansion of U.S. 14 between Owatonna and Dodge Center.

If lawmakers can't reach a deal on a comprehensive transportation plan, the partnership still wants legislators to take action. The group is asking that if a broad deal can't be agreed upon, lawmakers approve $500 million in one-time funding for the Corridors of Commerce program funded using the state budget surplus and truck highway bonds. Otherwise, the partnership wants $300 million truck highway bonds approved specifically for U.S. 14.

"If our Highway 14 legislators can't do anything else, they should do this," Gray said. "We have bi-partisan support, a team of engaged legislators and a simple program that is ready to fund."

Bishop book signing


Former Rochester GOP Rep. Dave Bishop will read from his new book, "Finding Common Ground: The Art of Legislating in an Age of Gridlock," at noon on Saturday at Barnes & Nobel in the Apache Mall. Bishop served 20 years in the Minnesota House — 14 of them in the minority party. His book details his secrets for getting legislation passed during his years in St. Paul.

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