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Minnesota Senate’s much-heftier bonding bill still has glaring omissions

The $561 million measure offers only limited Capitol renovation funds and nothing for Nicollet Mall repairs or a St. Paul regional ballpark.

Capitol renovations received less generous consideration in the Senate version than in the House bonding bill.

The Senate’s public works proposal this morning revealed some glaring absences.

The bonding measure [PDF] and accompanying spreadsheet [PDF] — proposed by the Capital and Investment Committee — would finance $561 million in projects across the state, with a hefty $127 million chunk going to Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU).

Majority Leader David Senjem, who chairs the committee, noted that legislators had to choose from among $2.6 billion in projects.

“We’re in the middle,” he said, noting that the Gov. Mark Dayton’s project list totaled $775 million and the House’s plan a stripped-down $280 million.

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DFLers seemed relieved that the bill had some meat on its bones.

“Most of the priorities are good,” said Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, who ultimately moved to recommend passage and move the bill to its next stop, the Finance Committee. 

Charles Wiger, DFL-Maplewoood, congratulated Senjem and his staffers for “reaching out” across the aisle and visiting project sites all over the state.

And, although he would have wanted the bill to be bigger, said David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, “you can’t accuse [it] of sending all the money north.” 

But legislators and others expressed disappointment about the omission of various projects.

The biggest, perhaps, was the renovation of the State Capitol itself. While the House has allocated $220 million for the project, the Senate bill offered up only $25 million for “preservation and repair.” Architects have said they need $62 million this summer to continue work on the project.

Two popular Twin Cities projects — renovation of Nicollet Mall for Minneapolis, the city’s No. 1 priority, and a regional baseball park for St. Paul — got zip.

Also out was money for work on the Southwest Corridor light rail project that would connect the Minneapolis hub to booming western suburbs.

Mankato also got short shrift on its long-sought civic center, while the Senate bill did fund civic centers projects in Rochester and St. Cloud.

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“We’ve been a bride left at the altar since 2006,” said the Mankato project director who asked the committee to reconsider. Senjem refused.

Other “disappointments”: No provision for the remodeling of St. Peter Hospital, which houses the mentally ill and some sex offenders; nothing for the Oliver Kelley farm, a historic site near Elk River, and nothing to fix the Billesby Dam in Dakota County, a top priority on the DNR’s most wanted list.

Senjem noted that the House had allocated $3 million for the dam, so that when a conference committee got together, it had some basis for discussion.