U banks on big 2011 bonding bill

The bill could include up to $100 million in University of Minnesota projects.

by James Nord

Like 2010, the upcoming Legislative session could be a double-whammy for lawmakers.
Depending on the course set by the new governor, 2011, typically a Legislative budget year, could saddle policymakers with passing up to $1 billion in bonding projects as well. Nearly $100 million in University of Minnesota requests would be included in that bill.
Last session, the stateâÄôs deficit, which was then $1 billion, forced the Legislature to pass a supplementary budget in a bonding year. This year could be the reverse, depending on the outcome of TuesdayâÄôs election.
DFLer Mark Dayton and Independence Party candidate Tom Horner both support a 2011 bonding bill in varying amounts âÄî $1 billion and $400 million, respectively. Republican candidate Tom Emmer doesnâÄôt support the measure.
Rep. Alice Hausman, House bonding committee chairwoman, is preparing this yearâÄôs bill. It includes $330 million in previously vetoed projects.
âÄúWe always try to work ahead so that weâÄôre prepared if suddenly somebody says, âÄòWe want a big bill in January,âÄôâÄù Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, said. âÄúSo weâÄôre really working right now.âÄù
Hausman is gathering information necessary to write the bill and is working with the University and other local authorities to determine which projects are priorities.
The majority of vetoed requests are higher education related, she said, but they also include transportation and regional projects.
After meeting with Donna Peterson, the associate vice president for University Relations, Hausman said five University projects will be included in the bill.
Three of the funding requests âÄìâÄì the American Indian Learning Resource Center, the Itasca Biological Station and the Bell Museum âÄìâÄì were line-item vetoed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty, R-Minn., in recent bonding bills. The projects total about $34 million in state funding.
Pawlenty recommended $53.3 million in funding for a University Physics and nanotechnology building, $4 million of which was ultimately authorized by the Legislature. The remaining $49.3 million will be included in this bill, Hausman said.
Since lawmakers authorized planning funds, the nanotechnology building is, âÄúas they say now, âÄòshovel ready,âÄôâÄù Peterson said.
Dayton would support such projects, especially those recently vetoed by Pawlenty.
âÄúThose are the types of projects that are ready to go and would put people to work right away,âÄù Deputy Campaign Manager Katharine Tinucci said.
Horner would work with the University and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system to âÄúfocus on infrastructure projects that serve our long-term needs while creating immediate jobs,âÄù he wrote in an e-mail.
The UniversityâÄôs final request is $12.5 million in state funding to move labs such as the Nuclear Magnetic Resonance facility located underneath Nils Hasselmo Hall, which could be affected by the Central Corridor light-rail line.
The request for state money originated last spring after the University and the Metropolitan Council made preliminary agreements about the transit corridor. Moving the labs would cost about $25 million, Peterson said.
Regardless of the requests, everything comes down to who is elected, not only in to the governorâÄôs office but to both legislative bodies.
âÄúBecause IâÄôm superstitious, weâÄôre not wanting to anticipate the outcome of TuesdayâÄôs election,âÄù Hausman said. âÄúOnce IâÄôm assured that weâÄôre in the majority and that I, in fact, continue to be the chair, then I think we would very quickly have our bill put together.âÄù
The electionâÄôs outcome will also provide the University with a realistic idea of whatâÄôs reasonable in terms of bonding, Peterson said.
âÄúWeâÄôre going to be having conversations with all of them in making our decisions âĦ so what we ask for is also within reality of what we can achieve, too,âÄù Peterson said, noting that although itâÄôs a âÄúformality,âÄù any bonding request would have to be approved by the Board of Regents. That approval could come in December at the earliest.
Currently, the University is in the planning stages.
âÄúPartly what we were trying to do, as IâÄôm sure [Hausman is] trying to do, is collect information: âÄòWhat options might there be?âÄôâÄù Peterson said.
âÄúAlways the best-case scenario is whatever we ask for, getting the funding for it, âÄúshe said. âÄúThatâÄôs always the best. âÄú