Dayton’s bonding proposal optimistic for UMN, but history remains less certain

Gov. Mark Dayton has proposed around $60 million more in capital funding than the University requested for the 2018 bonding session.

Gov. Mark Dayton on Monday, Aug. 28, at the Capitol in St. Paul. 

Gov. Mark Dayton on Monday, Aug. 28, at the Capitol in St. Paul. 

by Michael Achterling

The University of Minnesota’s 2018 bonding request is among its largest in the past five years. 

But that hasn’t stopped Gov. Mark Dayton from proposing full funding for the University’s request, plus an additional $60 million the school didn’t ask for. Dayton unveiled his higher education proposal as part of a larger $1.5 billion public works package earlier this month.

“[Dayton’s proposal is] really focused on asset preservation,” said Keith Hovis, spokesperson for the Minnesota Management and Budget office.

The governor’s public works bill includes nearly $300 million for the University — $250 million for Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement and around $50 million in additional funding for infrastructure projects. The University originally asked the state for $238.5 million.    

State and University buildings are subject to rising maintenance costs, Hovis said, and this bonding bill is an attempt to address ongoing maintenance and refurbishment.

“If [you] look at it for the next 10 years, it would cost about $1 billion just to keep up with the cost of our aging buildings,” he said. 

J.D. Burton, the University’s chief government relations officer, said the governor’s proposal is reflective of his continued support for higher education. 

Burton said the University needs $4.2 billion for infrastructure improvements moving forward, which the governor’s proposal would help chip away at.

“We are certainly very grateful and appreciative that [Dayton] put in such a high request for the University,” he said.

Burton also chaperoned a tour of House and Senate lawmakers around the University’s St. Paul campus earlier this month as part of the Legislature’s state bonding tour.

“The governor’s recommendation is only the beginning of the process, and we’ll continue to make our case to all of the Legislature about the importance of our bonding request … and we will see where the process leads us,” Burton said.

David Schultz, a Hamline University political science professor, said Dayton’s final higher education push will be his “last chance to make an imprint upon the state of Minnesota.”

But Schultz said the proposal may fail to gain momentum among Republican lawmakers who place less priority on higher education. 

“I doubt that we will see the University do very well, and at the end of the day, we’ll see something very similar in the past to what we will see this year,” he said.

Legislators haven’t filled a full University request in any of the past five years. 

The University requested $169.5 million in 2012 for capital investment, but ended with $64.1 million after negotiations between the Legislature and Dayton. The final funding amounted to 38 percent of the University’s original request.

The school has missed out on roughly $639 million in requested capital funds since 2012.

Sen. David Senjem, R-Rochester, chair of the Senate Capital Investment Committee, said lawmakers will have to account for budget constraints when weighing Dayton’s proposal.

“The projects pretty much stand on their own,” he said. “We have to deal within some dollar limitations, and the governor’s always been out-of-sight with his [proposals].”

Senjem said he expects a bill to pass his Senate committee with bipartisan support due to the 60 percent threshold needed for passage in the full chamber.