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Dayton makes case for $1.4 billion bonding package

By Jonathan Avise
Gov. Mark Dayton lays out his $1.4 billion bonding proposal at a Jan. 15 news conference. Photo by Andrew VonBank
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Funds for facilities maintenance at Minnesota universities, rail safety improvements and renovations at the troubled state security hospital are among the items on a $1.4 billion bonding wish list Gov. Mark Dayton announced Friday.                          

Whittled from nearly $4 billion in requests, the governor’s capital investment proposal would reach from Grand Marais to Luverne to aid projects large and small, and, Dayton said during a morning news conference, create an estimated 39,000 Minnesota jobs.

“This is a tremendous opportunity to make the kind of significant investment in the future of Minnesota — in the infrastructure, in our higher education buildings and the like — that we need and are seriously behind in accomplishing,” he said.

Dayton’s full bonding proposal, the largest during his tenure, comes one day after he unveiled a $220 million initiative to upgrade the state’s deteriorating water infrastructure as part of his larger borrowing plan. The governor on Friday added atop his list higher education and public safety projects he called critical to the state’s future.

Included among the 113 projects that Dayton proposes to fund through the sale of state-backed bonds are:

  • $135 million for asset preservation and replacement at Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system and University of Minnesota campuses;
  • $70.3 million to complete renovations at the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter to better protect staff and patient safety;
  • $69.6 million for highway-rail grade separations in Moorhead, Prairie Island and Coon Rapids;
  • $66.7 million for a health science education facility at the University of Minnesota;
  • $42.9 million to rebuild the busy — and structurally-deficient — Kellogg Boulevard Bridge in St. Paul spanning the Mississippi River between downtown and the city’s east side;
  • $34 million to renovate facilities at Bemidji State University, Minnesota State Community and Technical Colleges in Fergus Falls and Wadena, Northland Community and Technical College in East Grand Forks, Rochester Community and Technical College and Hibbing Community College;
  • $31.9 million to restore the 10th Avenue Bridge that connects downtown Minneapolis to the University of Minnesota campus, and
  • $26 million for a statewide program aimed at helping local governments complete infrastructure projects that support high-growth and innovative industries.

The 2016 session is the second year of the legislative biennium, typically regarded as a bonding year when lawmakers pass a large capital investment borrowing package. Dayton’s sweeping proposal, however, could be a tough sell.

Some legislators have expressed unease with bonding proposals that surpass $1 billion, and others have suggested recently the state should use some of its projected $1.9 billion budget surplus to fund capital projects in place of additional borrowing.

Notably absent from Dayton’s plan is any proposed funding for transit projects like the stalled Southwest Corridor Light Rail project, or for road and bridge repairs beyond the state’s two largest cities. He said the priority should be on funding those types of projects through a comprehensive transportation bill, the likes of which lawmakers have been unable to pass in recent legislative sessions.

"We are extremely disappointed that Gov. Dayton failed to set aside even $1 for road and bridge infrastructure in Greater Minnesota or the suburbs," House Majority Leader Joyce Peppin (R-Rogers) said in a statement. "Fixing our state's roads and bridges is a priority for Minnesotans in all parts of the state, and should be one of the first priorities in any bonding bill."

Dayton’s plan would dwarf a $370 million bonding law passed during last year’s June special session. He urged lawmakers on Friday to “look at the big picture,” beyond the 2016 elections looming less than 11 months away. Bonding bills require a three-fifths majority of each body to pass the Legislature.

“People say we can't afford to do this,” Dayton said. “We can't afford not to do this.”

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