by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol correspondent
Camp Ripley and the Minnesota Zoo are two well-known area facilities finding favor in Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton’s $775 million general obligation bonding bill released Jan. 17.
“The time could not be better,” said Dayton of advancing a bonding bill. “Minnesota needs jobs,” he said, a sentiment backed by a group of construction workers standing behind the governor at the Capitol press conference.
The administration heralds its bill, which when local government matches and other funding sources are included, totals about $1.5 billion, as geographically balanced and a reflection of “compelling stories,” said Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Jim Schowalter.
Dayton called on lawmakers to act speedily on the bonding bill. He indicated the projects in the bill are negotiable and depicted Republican objections to his perceived attempts at job growth in the past as “criticize, criticize, ‘no, no,’” he said.
Republican leaders were indeed critical of the governor’s bonding bill. Senate Majority Leader David Senjem, R-Rochester, in a statement said Republicans “fundamentally disagree” with the direction of Dayton’s approach.
“Rather than use debt as a jobs plan, Minnesota would be much better served if the governor turned his attention to creating a positive tax and regulatory climate in which job creators were more confident about expanding and investing in Minnesota,” said Senjem.
House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, expressed disapproval.
“Gov. Dayton is following in the footsteps of Democrats in Washington by proposing stimulus packages under the banner of job creation and economic development. In these economic times, a $775 million bonding bill that puts local spending projects on par with core infrastructure is unwise and ill-advised,” he said in a statement.
But union official Tim Stender of Forest Lake, his 5-year-old son, Mitch, standing at his side and wearing a hard hat, said he’d been laid off since Thanksgiving and looked forward to going back to work.
He tried to deflect often-heard criticism of bonding bills that the jobs they create are not permanent. Construction workers are always working themselves out a job, Stender said.
Under the governor’s proposal, about $20 million in bonding is slated for an education facility at Camp Ripley. The administration notes the camp is increasingly used for pre-deployment training for soldiers.
Some $7 million in bonding is slated towards the repair and upgrading of the dolphin exhibit at the Minnesota Zoo, with $375,000 slated towards heating and air quality improvements at the National Sports Center in Blaine.
In terms of prison system bonding, about $5 million is slated towards constructing a perimeter fence at Shakopee women’s prison, with about $3 million slated towards water improvements at Stillwater prison.
Some $30 million is slated for St. Cloud prison for new intake and health services units, among other prison improvements.
In terms of higher education bonding, Anoka-Ramsey Community College in Coon Rapids is slated some $650,000 for an addition to its science building — Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) will throw in additional funding to raise the total to nearly $1 million.
In one of the larger MnSCU projects, North Hennepin Community College is slated about $18 million to construct a bioscience and health career center, with MnSCU throwing in an additional $8 million to the project.
Other area colleges finding favor in the bonding bill is Century College in White Bear Lake, which is slated about $3 million for classroom construction, and Dakota County Community and Technical College slated for about $5 million to renovate its transportation and emerging technologies lab — MnSCU will also throw dollars into these projects.
In the area of transportation funding, the governor slated about $3 million in bonding towards construction of a truck station and vehicle maintenance facility at an existing highway department site in Cambridge.
In Metropolitan Council transit funding, Dayton recommended $25 million in bonding towards the construction of the Southwest Corridor light rail line transit line.
Proposed to run some 15 miles from Minneapolis to Eden Prairie, the Southwest Corridor is planned to link to the Central Corridor light rail line scheduled to run between Minneapolis and St. Paul.
Dayton, when asked about local opposition to the proposed Southwest Corridor light rail line transit line, urged local officials to embrace it.
If they don’t, the funding opportunity will go elsewhere, he said.
In other proposals, Dayton is proposing to bond about $3 million for a grant to the city of Maplewood to improve the former St. Paul’s Monastery for use by Harriet Tubman Center East, which will provide housing and support services for families in crisis.
A number of local government projects found favor in the bonding bill, with about $10 million being slated towards St. Cloud Civic Center expansion and $35 million towards Mayo Civic Center expansion in the city of Rochester.
A smaller bonding proposal, one for $30,000, is for a grant to the city of Oakdale for a veterans memorial near City Hall.
St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman’s No. 1 bonding request to acquire and prepare a 7,500-seat sports facility is included in Dayton’s bonding bill. Dayton slates $27 million in bonding towards the facility project, a potential new home for the St. Paul Saints minor league baseball team.
Dayton also slates about $8 million towards the design and upgrade of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. He also includes $25 million in general obligation bonding for an upgrade of Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis.
“I believe in the downtown,” said Dayton of the attention paid to urban centers in his bonding bill.
Other voices spoke out regarding Dayton’s bonding bill.
“Gov. Dayton has been a vocal and tireless advocate for the University of Minnesota, and we are thankful for his support,” said Kathleen O’Brien, vice president, University Services at the University of Minnesota.
Dayton slated the university almost $80 million in bonding for the university, the biggest chunk of the bonding, some $54 million, slated towards the renovation of the Old Main Steam Plant facility on the Minneapolis university campus.
Dayton explained that the projects found in his bonding bill reflect about only half of the requests that came in.