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Bonding plan last part of legislative puzzle

State Sen. Matt Schmit of Red Wing examines paperwork about a public works funding bill Monday. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

ST. PAUL — The last remaining major puzzle piece to finishing the 2014 Minnesota Legislature’s session is set to be put in place.

Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, D-Plummer, Monday announced a proposal topping $1 billion to fund public works projects around the state. It came two weeks before the Legislature must adjourn for the year.

Red Wing’s River Renaissance work was included in the plan, but funded at $1.6 million rather than the full $6 million requested.

“While of course we’re grateful for whatever we can get, the project is significant enough that we really do need those larger funds,” Council President Lisa Bayley said Tuesday.

Under the Senate plan, the state would borrow $846 million through selling bonds that would be repaid by general taxes. Some projects would be funded by bonds to be repaid by other sources. The Stumpf bill also would spend nearly $200 million in cash from a state budget surplus.

While the proposal matches total borrowing in a House plan, specific projects in the bills vary. The legislative bonding level falls a bit short of what Gov. Mark Dayton proposes.

The House’s bonding proposal released earlier in the session would provide the full amount Red Wing requested for its River Renaissance project. The governor proposed no funding for the work.

Stumpf, chairman of the committee that considers public works projects, said the state received about $4 billion in requests from local governments and state agencies for projects. Public facilities are aging, he said, and money is needed to repair them.

“Stuff doesn't last forever,” Stumpf said.

State-run colleges and universities would get more than $250 million of the funds, which Stumpf said would help train workers. Some of the money would go to repair buildings; other funds would be spent on new facilities.

“Businesses all over the state were eager for higher-trained workers,” Stumpf said he learned while traveling the state.

Rural areas, in particular, need better-trained workers, he added, to bolster their economic growth.

Stumpf said he tried to focus on basic needs such as repairing buildings like the state Capitol, transportation, economic development and housing. But Republicans were critical of the bill, saying projects such as transportation and southwest Minnesota's Lewis and Clark water system were shortchanged in proposals by the Democratic governor and legislative leaders. Republicans were critical of funding projects such as a Minneapolis sculpture garden instead of Lewis and Clark.

“If you want to do things like extend water to the parched area of the state … shouldn't we be able to start with those critical needs first?” Rep. Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, asked.

Stumpf said that a bonding bill needs to contain a variety of projects.

“It is easy to point to a project and say, ‘Don't fund this one, but fund the one I want,’” Stumpf said. When it comes to projects such as the sculpture garden, he admitted, “many people probably think of it more as a frill than a need.”

Red Wing’s united approach

Bayley said Red Wing’s River Renaissance project will impact the community, from tourism to industry to local residents. It’s involved many agencies and people coming together and working hard, she said, including the city, county, Port Authority, school district, state and local elected officials and other community leaders.

Likely part of the appeal to lawmakers is that “Red Wing is really working as a united community on this,” Bayley said.

Red Wing’s proposal includes restructuring portions of Levee Road, work on the Riverwalk Trail including connecting it to other trails and separating pedestrians and bicycles from vehicle traffic, a riverboat dock and harbor and work to upgrade and renovate the Sheldon Theatre.

The city hopes to match $6 million in state bonding funds with money from local, state and federal entities and sources.

Bayley said while the city is hopeful it will get the full funding from the state, the project can be broken in tiers and “somehow we’d make it happen” if the money didn’t come through.

Three-fifths of the House and Senate must approve of a bonding bill, which means some Republicans will need to join Democrats who control the Legislature if a bonding bill is to pass. The cash spending, which will be in a separate bill, only needs a simple majority.

Stumpf said he expects the House and Senate to pass different bills, forcing negotiators to work out differences in a conference committee.

The Legislature must adjourn by May 19.

Republican Eagle reporter Danielle Killey contributed to this story.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.