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It’s too little; it’s too much

Published (5/25/2012)
By Lee Ann Schutz
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Although not thrilled with the size of spending in the capital investment bill, Gov. Mark Dayton, nonetheless, signed off on the nearly $500 million plan.

“It’s not as much as I had hoped for, but [...] I signed the bill, and most of them are good and important projects, ones that will benefit the people of Minnesota, and benefit the institutions where they are going, and most importantly, will put thousands of people throughout Minnesota to work, which was the No. 1 priority of this legislative session,” he said.

The law required some heavy-lifting from the DFL to move it off the House and Senate floors. Largely because of the jobs it will provide, the minority party put up the majority of the votes needed to move the bill along, even though many members said it should have included more projects. Republicans reminded them that when combined with the nearly $500 million in bonding enacted last year that puts the biennial total close to $1 billion.

Sponsors Rep. Larry Howes (R-Walker) and Senate Majority Leader David Senjem (R-Rochester) shepherded the bill in and out of committees, watching it morph and change at each stop.

The party divide remained evident in debate on the House floor. Several DFLers acknowledged the projects in the bill, but also pointed out those that were sidelined.

“We missed an opportunity to build strong regional centers,” said Rep. Alice Hausman (DFL-St. Paul) referencing the omission of civic center funding for Mankato, Rochester and St. Cloud. However, she praised the $44 million to begin the State Capitol building renovation and the $30 million in the law for affordable housing. She called the law “great for higher education as we train the workforce of the future.” The law contains $132.1 million for asset preservation and replacement projects at the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system and $64 million to the University of Minnesota for asset preservation.

Rep. Mark Buesgens (R-Savage) called the proposal, “the largest biennial borrowing package in state history. … We are about to foist this onto the backs of the taxpayers. The projects in here can wait, but the debt is crushing.”

Rep. Doug Wardlow (R-Eagan) said the bonding bill process is “befuddling,” and that it needs reform. “I wish we could vote on each one of the projects” rather than making a collective decision. “If there is one project that makes us scratch our heads, then we have to vote no,” he said.

In total, the new law, effective May 12, 2012, calls for $496.4 million in general obligation bonding. Provisions include:

• $49.4 million for Department of Transportation projects, including $33 million for local bridge replacement and rehabilitation;

• $47.5 million for Minnesota Sex Offender Program treatment facilities improvement; and

• $46.5 million to the Department of Natural Resources, with $30 million dedicated to flood mitigation.

The Department of Employment and Economic Development is allocated $76.5 million, including $47.5 million for the Business Development Through Capital Project Grants program.

Funded projects include:

• $13.5 million to construct a new building addition to the Hormel Institute in Austin;

• $3 million to construct a new regional public television station in Bemidji; and

• $500,000 to design a floodwall extension in South St. Paul.

A new Greater Minnesota Business Development Public Infrastructure Grant Program receives $6 million. Administered by DEED, the program seeks to help fund public infrastructure investment geared toward business expansion that would not occur without public financial assistance.

These competitive grants are available to local governmental units for eligible projects. The state grant must be matched with at least an equal amount from non-state sources. From the program, up to

$1.2 million as a matching grant is awarded to the Lake Superior-Poplar River Water District to help fund a water system. The grant program sunsets June 29, 2016.

The law also addresses affordable housing initiatives that Hausman said only happened because “housing advocates have been here every single day. They have had an enormous impact on the body here.”

The new law allows DEED to issue up to $30 million in bonds to finance the cost of supportive housing for those without a permanent residence; and for rehabilitation of foreclosed or abandoned housing that will be used for affordable rental housing.

The Harriet Tubman Center in Maplewood will receive $2 million to help transition the facility to a regional safety service center for domestic violence shelter.

HF1752*/ SF1463/CH293

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