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