Bonding bill gets no special session

The bonding bill included $80 million for maintenance at the University.

A move last week by Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty to pass up a special session on a proposed bonding bill, which included $80 million for University maintenance, means the issue will have to wait until the regular session in February.

When House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher (DFL-Minneapolis) and Senate Majority Leader Sen. Larry Pogemiller (DFL-Minneapolis) met with the governor Dec. 3, the two state legislators presented a $320 million bonding bid, a quarter of which was intended as deferred maintenance money for the University.

Todd Iverson, the assistant director for state relations in the University’s governmental relations office, said the University wouldn’t comment on the governor’s decision. Iverson did say, however, the University didn’t have a role in determining the $80 million figure Kelliher and Pogemiller presented.

“They did not ask us for any input on what they put forward,” he said.

In its 2008 capital request, the University asked for $100 million for Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement – the University’s program for deferred maintenance.

Mike Berthelsen, the associate vice president for facilities management, said he uses the term “renewal” to describe the state-funded improvement projects, rather than “deferred maintenance.”

Likening University upkeep to car maintenance, Berthelsen said “deferred maintenance” creates the impression that the University has put off doing the repairs.

“At some point the engine will need maintenance, even if you do all the right things,” he said.

Renewal money is applied in three general categories across all University campuses: health and safety, building systems and infrastructure, Berthelsen said.

Projects are tackled based on their rank in a facility condition assessment, which is used to keep track of priority tasks.

Current needs on the Twin Cities campus include replacing an electric substation on the St. Paul campus, brick work and window replacement at the Armory and a new sprinkler system in the Chemical Engineering building.

Berthelsen said for the past few years the University typically received about half of what it asked for in HEAPR funding.

If that’s the case, the $80 million figure proposed by Kelliher and Pogemiller would appear to be a significant increase, if approved by the rest of the Legislature and the governor.

Kelliher said her reasoning in proposing a special session was two-fold.

“Our hope was to fire up the economy and make these critical investments” to get “a bunch of jobs on the ground immediately,” she said.

By addressing the issue early, Kelliher said she hoped to give deferred maintenance priority.

“I think that one of the things that often gets squeezed in a capital investment bill is deferred maintenance,” she said.

Because the issue will be put off until the regular session, she said competition for funding would likely increase.

Kelliher said she’d propose a comprehensive capital investment bill again once the Legislative session gets underway.