Compromise on bonding bill is a positive sign
There's a lot to like in the $496 million bonding bills that cleared both the Minnesota House and Senate on Monday. This deal appears to split the difference between Gov. Dayton's $775 million proposal and the House's original offer of $280 million for bonding, and once the details are worked out in conference committee, this package should put a lot of people to work, both in the short term and the foreseeable future.
Among the highlights for our region:
• $13.5 million for an expansion of the Hormel Institute in Austin, a project which seemingly came out of nowhere last summer to become one of the most widely supported projects in line for bonding dollars.
• $8.7 million to relocate the Rochester WorkForce Center to Rochester Community and Technical College.
• $3 million to dredge Lake Zumbro — not enough to complete the job, but enough to make a big difference in the usefulness of our region's largest body of water (other than the Mississippi River, of course).
Of course, all the news isn't good. Despite Sen. Dave Senjem's position as chair of the Capital Investment Committee, the Mayo Civic Center expansion once again has been left off the list that appears likely to be sent to Dayton's desk within the next few days.
Those who want to look on the bright side will hasten to point out that there is at least a glimmer of hope for the civic center, in the form of a $50 million "Business Development through Capital Project Grant Program." The money would be allocated by the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), meaning that unelected officials would make the decisions regarding where the money would go.
In theory, that's not a bad thing. We're convinced that civic center expansion, unencumbered by political considerations, would stand out as a great investment for Rochester, southeastern Minnesota and the entire state.
The downside? Rep. Kim Norton, a DFLer from Rochester, neatly summarized some of the fears related to this idea. "I worry this is a dicey direction and sets a bad future precedent. This block grant program will give too much false hope and is open to virtually any project statewide to apply for it."
We share those concerns — especially the one about future precedents. If this grant program effectively excludes civic centers and other entertainment/business development projects from future bonding bills, then the DEED money will need to be provided every two years — and increased over time.
But Norton still voted for the bill, as did plenty of other legislators on both sides of the aisle. We're glad they did, because sometimes you have to accept the deal that's doable. Minnesota needs a jobs-producing capital investment bill, and barring an unexpected disaster, we're going to get one.