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Gov. Dayton, jobs advocates bemoan fate of bonding bill

Gov. Mark Dayton sang with the choir this afternoon at the Capitol.

The governor, members of the Building Jobs Coalition and a few dozen construction workers met to talk over the still-hurting construction industry in the state.

All concerned sang praises of Dayton’s $500 million bonding bill as they told stories of how people across the industry are hurting.

One problem for the governor — and this choir: To date, Republican legislators have shown virtually no interest in bonding, except perhaps for emergency flood mitigation projects.

The governor said that bonding for flood-related projects is worthy.

“But putting people to work is an emergency, too,” the governor said. “If you lose your home to a flood or because you lost your job — it’s no different.”

The people in the room applauded.

It should be pointed out that the Building Jobs Coalition is made up of more than union leaders from the construction trades. Construction companies, engineers and architects also have seats at the table of the three-year-old organization.

It’s not just construction workers who are hurting, they told the governor. Architects, engineers, people involved in all sorts of distantly related crafts and professions have been hit by the deep construction recession.

Since 2006, construction-related business has crashed by 36 percent, the governor was told. That means 30,000 people are out of work. Bad as things are in the construction industry nationally, they’re even worse in Minnesota. Nationally, employment in construction is down 37 percent from peak periods. In Minnesota, that number is 53 percent.

And within the industry certain groups are being hit harder than others.

Barb Christiansen, who heads a group of construction firms headed by women, said that 10 percent of women-owned construction businesses have closed in the last year.

The question of the day was asked by an unemployed heavy-equipment operator.

“Why,” he asked the governor, “would the people of Minnesota pay me unemployment” but not support a bonding bill that would put people back to work?

The governor nodded his head empathetically.

“You’re asking the right questions,” he said. “It’s a mystery to me why there’s not broad, nonpartisan support.”

Dayton admitted that what he thought was a creative idea — coming up with $500 million in bonding projects and inviting the Legislature to add $500 million more — has been a dud.

“I can’t get anybody to nibble at the opportunity,” he said.

He did add that a bonding bill isn’t a “full solution” to the woes of the construction industry. “But it contributes to the solution.”

Dayton urged those in attendance “to make your voices heard for the 55 days that remain [of the regular session].” 

After the meeting with the coalition, the governor spent time with the media.

One of the first questions from reporters was the status of a Vikings’ stadium bill and whether the governor could justify supporting a bill at a time when cuts to so many vital services are being made.

He made it clear that he will support a stadium bill that does not take money from the general fund.

He called it a “people’s stadium” and  a “jobs bill.”

He suggested that he could support a measure that paid for the project through a series of surcharges on tickets, merchandise and concessions in addition to surcharges on hotels and car rental companies.

A football stadium, he said, could help “people on the bench get back to work.”

In other gubernatorial news, the governor said he and Republican legislative leaders gathered for breakfast this morning and that all who attended “complimented the bagels.”

As for more dicey policy issues?

Dayton again made it clear that he will not sign major financial bills that include policy legislation. He made it clear that he will veto any education bill, for example, that limits collective bargaining rights for teachers and such things as elimination of funds aimed at integration.

Still, despite the obvious differences he has with Republican legislators, the governor continued to insist that he’s “optimistic” that this session will come to a timely conclusion.

“We’re all persuadable,” he said of the negotiations that lie ahead.

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