Dayton’s bonding bill likely DOA

$100 million of the bonding bill would be used for University projects.

by James Nord

Gov. Mark DaytonâÄôs $560 million bonding bill, heard for the first time Wednesday, was met with predictable disinterest by Republicans.

The bill would borrow money over the long term to pay for construction across the state, including $100 million for University of Minnesota projects.

Vice President of University Services Kathleen OâÄôBrien brought the UniversityâÄôs case before the House Capital Investment Committee, arguing for light-rail mitigation funding, nanotechnology construction money and maintenance aid.

She joined a train of other local and county officials who testified before the committee, each attempting the uphill climb to convince the Republican majority their projects are worth supporting.

When Dayton unveiled his bonding proposal earlier this month, Republicans instantly bashed it as wasteful borrowing in a tough economy. It was unclear who would even carry the legislation.

Dayton said a $1 billion bonding bill could create an estimated 28,000 jobs.

House Bonding Committee Chairman Larry Howes, despite opposing a large bonding bill, said itâÄôs “proper protocol” to hear the measure, simply because the governor proposed it.

Included in DaytonâÄôs proposal is $51.3 million for a University Physics and Nanotechnology building and $12.5 million to help relocate research labs along Washington Avenue that will be affected by the Central Corridor.

Physics research at the University is “hampered by an obsolete facility thatâÄôs almost 80 years old,” OâÄôBrien told the committee.

Last session, the DFL majority afforded $4 million to plan the new nanotechnology facility, which administrators estimate will cost $80 million total.

After the University came to an agreement with the regional transit authority constructing the Central Corridor last year, former Gov. Tim Pawlenty said he supported using $12.5 million in state bonds âÄî about half the total cost âÄî to help move affected labs. OâÄôBrien said Dayton reaffirmed that commitment by including it in the bill.

Also part of the proposal is $35 million in maintenance dollars, formally called Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement funds.

OâÄôBrien said the University would use about $23 million of those funds to upgrade the systemâÄôs elevators to make them fit state code. It would also spend about $12 million across every campus to fix water damage.

“Just think about large campuses and the water issues we might have,” she said.

But even after two hours of pleas, justifications and promises that the projects would create thousands of jobs, HowesâÄô opinion remained unchanged.

“In all likelihood there wonâÄôt be a large, off-year bonding bill except for emergencies,” Howes said after the meeting.

The bill allocates about $28 million for flooding, which would likely be the stateâÄôs biggest emergency.

When Dayton originally proposed the bill, he left half of it open for the Legislature to fill in.

Former House Bonding Committee Chairwoman Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, also walked away disillusioned with DaytonâÄôs process because it didnâÄôt include funding for parks and trails and only offered a “pitiful” amount of transit money.

Officials from St. Paul, Mankato, Rochester and St. Cloud all came to the state for ballpark and civic center funding, despite previous Republican opposition to the projects.

Although the UniversityâÄôs projects have unimpressive support, OâÄôBrien said government relations staffers would continue meeting with lawmakers on the committee to see if they can be swayed.

She said the exercise itself is worthwhile.

“Any time you have an opportunity to present to lawmakers your case, itâÄôs a good thing.”