Minn. Senate Volleys $496M Construction Bill

Fri May 25, 2012 - Midwest Edition
Alexandra Tempus - ASSOCIATED PRESS

A nearly $500 million construction package cleared the Minnesota Legislature on May 7.
A nearly $500 million construction package cleared the Minnesota Legislature on May 7.

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) A nearly $500 million construction package cleared the Minnesota Legislature on May 7, but has to revisit the House after the Senate squeezed in more projects.

The Senate approved the bill 45-22 on May 7, hours after it easily passed the House on a 99-32 vote.

The legislation would borrow $496 million for statewide construction, including work on campus buildings, bridges and roads, flood mitigation and renovations to the state Capitol building.

The bill evolved from numerous borrowing proposals reworked throughout the session, and includes more money for state college buildings, flood prevention and transportation projects than earlier versions. It provides less for renovations at the state Capitol — $44 million down from $221 million once put forward for a full-scale restoration. Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker, the bill’s sponsor, said it had support from both parties and in both chambers.

Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem said the package focused on preserving buildings the state already has.

“It’s a difficult task. We’ve got a lot of assets out there, a tremendous number of buildings, tremendous number of things to take care of,” said Senjem, R-Rochester.

The Senate tweaked the House version, voting to move $2.5 million from an economic development fund to pay for a floodwall in South St. Paul and improvements to a battered women’s shelter in Minneapolis. The House can either approve the bill with the changes or send it to a conference committee for negotiations.

The University of Minnesota would see $64 million under the bill, and $132 million would go to renovations and additions within the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system.

Flood prevention projects, which weren’t included in the initial House proposal, will get $30 million, and the bill provides $49 million for road and bridge work, as well as other transportation projects. The Hormel Institute in Austin would get $13.5 million, more than any other local development project.

But funding for several local projects has been cut. The measure provides no money for a St. Paul Saints baseball park and nothing for civic center expansions in Mankato, St. Cloud and the Mayo Civic Center in Rochester.

Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, voted for the bill but lamented the lack of money for community projects.

“The business community engaged on this bill,” Hausman said. “They compared us to cities across the nation. We have given them exactly zero for all that work. We missed an opportunity to build strong regional centers in partnership with those cities.”

Instead of funding specific local projects, the bill would create a $50 million fund to be handled by the state Department of Employment and Economic Development. Communities can apply for grants for projects.

Some lawmakers were opposed to asking taxpayers to foot the bill for that.

“The projects in here can wait but the debt we’re foisting onto the backs of Minnesotans is crushing,” said Rep. Mark Buesgens, R-Jordan.

The House’s $221 million bonding bill for a Capitol restoration failed by one vote last month. Many Democrats said during that debate that they opposed funding the Capitol overhaul at the expense of other projects.

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