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What a philosophical difference a year makes with Dayton's $1 billion bonding plan

Gov. Mark Dayton
MinnPost/Bill Kelley
Gov. Mark Dayton

What was most striking today was the total difference in tone.

When Gov. Mark Dayton urged passage of a $1 billion bonding bill this morning, his voice was filled with something approaching excitement.

This is, he repeatedly said, “a jobs bill.’’ This is a “downtown revitalization’’ bill, not only for Minneapolis and St. Paul, but for regional centers throughout the state.

A year earlier, Gov. Tim Pawlenty had a narrow, almost hold-your-nose, approach to bonding. If a bonding proposal didn’t, in his view, have statewide impact, it shouldn’t be done.

Pawlenty talked, as current Republican legislative leaders  do, of how “this is not the time for the state to be pulling out its credit card."

Dayton touts advantages of bonding now
Dayton said this absolutely is the time for Minnesota to be using credit. Interest rates remain low, he pointed out.

Because so many companies need work, bids for construction projects likely will be low as well.

Pawlenty talked of how government doesn’t create jobs.

Dayton took the opposite tack. Government bonding money will be used by private-sector companies to put people to work. In fact, he said, by pushing this bonding bill, he is directing the state just as a responsible CEO would act in the private sector.

In coming forward with his bonding proposal, Dayton’s approach was opposite from Pawlenty’s.

Pawlenty, dealing with a DFL-controlled Legislature, slashed nearly half of the $1 billion bonding bill that DFLers sought a year ago.

It almost seemed as if Dayton had reached into Pawlenty’s veto file and pulled out hundreds of millions of dollars in projects that Pawlenty had nixed.

Governor asks Legislature to add its projects to bill
Additionally, Dayton made what is a calculated political move. While Pawlenty was fighting  last year’s legislative bonding bill, Dayton listed $531 million in projects and asked that the Legislature “in a bipartisan manner’’ come up with another $469 million in projects.

Dayton asked for more. Dayton asked for speed. Dayton, with support from his commissioner of Management and Budget, Jim Showalter, said the state could afford his proposal.

“We’re 16th-lowest [nationally] in interest paid on public projects,’’ the governor said.

Oh, such a difference from a year ago.

No, we shouldn’t, was Pawlenty’s point of view.

Yes, we can, is Dayton’s.

But wait a minute, said Republican legislative leaders. They were not impressed with the governor’s plan.

In essence, they said, NO.

The only bonding Republican leaders said would interest them is on basic flood relief and other emergency projects.

“It’s not a gift card,’’ said Republican leader Matt Dean, “it’s taxpayer dollars.’’

Sen. Geoff Michel said that instead of more borrowing, the state should focus on the $6.2 billion deficit and job creation.

It is, of course, easy to say no now.

GOP likely to face public pressure
But Republican leaders will be under tremendous pressure from all sorts of people to say “yes’’ to the governor. Bonding is one area that brings labor and chambers of commerce together.

School administrators, mayors whose cities would benefit, Main Street retailers who want to see cranes and workers in their communities all will be pushing for positive action.

Even sportsmen and conservationists will see things they like in Dayton’s proposal, such as $16 million for rebuilding the Mississippi River dam at Coon Rapids as a last line of defense against such invasive species as Asian carp.

“Those who believe there’s no role for government, I frankly disagree,’’ said Dayton.

The projects he proposes run the gamut from $28 million in flood mitigation for the northwestern portions of the state to $20 million to contribute to a new downtown St. Paul baseball park, which would be home to the Saints.

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman was delighted, of course.

“With Gov. Dayton’s tremendous support, St. Paul is one step closer to building a community facility that will bring visitors from across the state together in celebration of America’s favorite pastime,’’ Coleman said.

Coleman’s delight was shared by both labor and chamber bodies.

The big project in Dayton’s proposal is $51 million for a physics and nanotechnology building on the University of Minnesota campus. That’s the sort of project, Dayton said, that will be both an incubator for research and new small businesses in the state.

Regional centers — Mankato, St. Cloud and Rochester — that were smacked by Pawlenty vetoes would get funding for improvements and expansions of their civic centers, including $28 million for Rochester.

Rochester Mayor Ardell Brede, who was standing at the governor’s side during the unveiling of the bonding proposal, vowed that the civic center would be an investment that would pay for itself many times over. There would be the immediate benefit of 400 construction projects. Beyond that, however, the mayor said that over the years the civic center would bring in many “millions of dollars’’ of new money to Minnesota.

The bonding money to be directed toward Minneapolis wasn’t quite so sexy as a new ballpark for St. Paul or a new building for the University of Minnesota or a totally redone civic center for Rochester.

The proposals include $8 million for Target Center renovation, $7 million for shoring up the Plymouth Avenue Bridge and $5 million for construction of Granary Road in a developing industrial corridor in the southeast portion of the city.

But Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak said the projects are both beneficial in the short and long term.

Typically, bonding bills are dealt with in even-numbered years, with the budget the focus of the odd-numbered years.

Dayton says now is time to act
But Dayton said because of high unemployment and favorable market forces, this is the time to act. He indicated that he might not come back with another bonding bill next year.

But that presumably depends on how this bill fares in the Legislature this year. (Bonding bills would need the support of 81 House members and 41 senators to go to the governor.) 

Rochester’s Brede acknowledged that the governor’s proposal does not face “an easy road.’’

On the subject of roads, Brede laughed. It had been difficult on this snowy day to get from Rochester to the Capitol.

He added that high-speed rail between Rochester and the Twin Cities would certainly be a nice thing to have.

James Nord, a Minn Post intern, contributed to this story.

Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.

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Comments (16)

Republicans are masters of having their cake and eating it too. Where bonding is concerned they both want to criticize it, while also claiming credit for the benefits it provides. The current political alignment presents Republican with their most difficult dilemma yet. How do they both oppose a bill, which because the are the majority party means the bill's defeat, while still reaping the benefits the bill provides. I expect the contortions we will see from GOP legislators on this issue over the next couple of months to be quite amusing.

The easiest thing for a politician to do is to spend our children’s and grandchildren’s money.

This bonding bill is mostly a pay-off to the unions who give big money to the DFL.

Republican majorities were bought and paid for by The Chamber of Commerce. Now those same republicans are going to find out that some of their constituents have different priorities than the Chamber. Most contractor's typically vote Republican, I would love to be in those meetings when they tell their rep, that a bonding bill means private sector jobs.

Dayton has done a masterful job of putting the GOP in a box and exposing the hypocrisy of their laser focus on jobs.

And where is that science building for King Banaian's St. Cloud State University? Will Gretsky not score a goal?

Ah, the irony.

Jobs. Who really wants to help Minnesota's families with growth of the economy and stable jobs for thousands? It is easy say NO, and parrot the GOP line on deficits. We can only give so many tax breaks to corporations in the hopes they might hire someone. More trickle down. That we rank so low on state bonding load, that we have historically low interest rates, that the bidders will have to be very competitive to win contracts, all point to how timely this bonding proposal is. Time to make adult, thoughtful decisions legislators.

Note the comment from the new Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development commissioner Mark Phillips in yesterdays Strib: "Government doesn't create jobs." Maybe the Governor will listen to him.

America used to build things. It's nice to be on the right track again.

Senator Dayton's billion dollar bonding bill is the perfect response to President Obama's earmark ban proposal.

Following the failed stimulus, the President proposed a spending freeze and earmark ban, in effect folding his cards. Dayton, apparently unaware of the events of the last two years, is doubling down on Obama's failed bet.

Dayton: "In fact, he said, by pushing this bonding bill, he is directing the state just as a responsible CEO would act in the private sector." Having no previous experience as a chief executive, how does he know how one would act? Can we really consider this an investment; borrowing money to spend? That is not how most of us invest money.

This is the ONLY thing that has come up so far this session that creates jobs. ALL the other nonsense the Republicans have brought forward was just kissing big business butt. This is jobs, folks, because despite all the claims of government doesn't create jobs, it can. It shouldn't create jobs just for the sake of it, but building new university buildings and other tangible assets will be a big multiplier for jobs all over the state.

Jobs, jobs, jobs is what the Republicans said they were going to do first. Instead they have squandered a whole month with voter ID, repealing handgun background checks and English-only laws. Frankly the Republicans are the dog that caught the car. They never expected to win and have NO idea what they are doing in Saint Paul. We might as well have so many organ grinder monkeys down there for the amount of knowledge they have in governing.

The billion dollar bonding bill will create jobs, and they will last until the chosen projects are completed. Without an improvement in the economy, those workers will remain unemployed until the next bonding bill, with the accompanying promise of jobs, is announced.

The only permanent jobs the government is good at creating are government jobs.

the President proposed a spending freeze and earmark ban

The point of earmarks is to take away discretionary power of the president to spend money. Therefore presidents are always opposed to them, and the institutional tendency of Congress is to favor them, something newly elected Congresspeople discover very quickly after their arrival in Washington.

@Steve

ALL - and I mean absolutely every - construction job is temprorary. Carpenters and other construction workers know that.

But it can be a real assent to the taxpayers of Minnesota to get work out of idled construction companies because frequently they're willing to work for less. A big new building at a university could cost a third less than when construction workers and companies were busy.

Maybe I'd feel better about this idea if the starting number wasn't just pulled out of the air (1 billion dollars). It would help if the Governor didn't ask the Legislature to find a way to spend half of the money. Maybe if there was a huge list and it had been pared down to a billion dollars, but instead we're just trying to find ways to spend borrowed money. It is a good time to build (cheaper labor, low interest), if we had the money.

Tom:

It reminds me of a teenager asking a parent for money. If you ask for a small amount, you will likely get it, but it will be a small amount. If you ask for a lot, the answer will be NO. So, based on past experiences, you try to find that sweet spot. A billion dollars has been deemed to be the sweet spot. We will see.

Actually, some of these projects create permanent jobs. The Civic Center in Rochester for instance is expected to create 500-800 permanent hospitality jobs.

Paul:

While I am sure that the plans for the Mayo Civic Center have the potential to add some permanent jobs, I don't find 500-800 to be a believable number for the expansion of an existing facility.

And, new business (market share) will come at the expense, to some extent, of the business (jobs) of competing regional facilities.