Minnesota governor seeks to borrow $1.5B for construction

AP News
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Posted: Jan 16, 2018 3:44 PM

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Gov. Mark Dayton urged skeptical lawmakers Tuesday to borrow $1.5 billion to fund overdue improvements to college campuses, water infrastructure and various other public construction projects, a request nearly twice as large as his administration estimated last month.

The so-called bonding bill will be a marquee item for the coming legislative session when lawmakers return Feb. 20. And in his last chance to fund a backlog of public works proposals before leaving office early next year.

Sensing inevitable pushback on the cost from Republicans who control the Legislature, the Democratic governor's administration stressed the still-low — though rising — interest rates available for borrowing and said tackling the wish list could employ nearly 23,000 workers.

"Now is the time to make substantial investments in our state's future," Dayton said in a statement.

Bonding bills are political footballs at the Legislature, often the product of last-minute haggling with individual projects meant to win over critical votes. And Dayton's emphasis was on politically popular items such as $167 million for direly needed wastewater infrastructure repairs, $115 million dedicated to address a shortage of affordable housing and $542 million split between the University of Minnesota campuses and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system.

Combined, those items compose more than half of the final bill's $1.5 billion price tag. But Republicans immediately rejected Dayton's proposal as too rich, especially on the heels of a $1 billion borrowing package passed just last year.

"It will be an uphill battle to secure legislative support for a proposal that spends $600 million more than we have planned for in the budget forecast," said GOP Rep. Dean Urdahl, who chairs the House panel charged with assembling a bonding bill.

Dayton's proposal is sure to be retooled when lawmakers return in February, and after economic officials give an updated readout on the state's financial standing. In December, they projected a $188 million budget deficit that could quickly shrink by the time the legislative session begins.

Pinch hitting on Tuesday for Dayton, who was sidelined with a cold, Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Myron Frans defended the bill's large size and its mix of projects as integral for the state.

"All of these projects ... these are timeless issues the governor has been fighting for the last seven years," Frans said.

The proposal earmarks $458 million to restore and rehabilitate state-owned facilities across Minnesota, from $3.2 million to patch up crumbling monuments on the state Capitol grounds to $40 million for aging Department of Transportation buildings that deploy snow plows and $130 million for upkeep across Minnesota's 75 state parks.

Iconic attractions across the state would also get some help. Duluth's Glensheen Mansion would be in line for $4 million in repairs, while the Stone Arch Bridge in Minneapolis would receive $13 million for design and repairs.