House DFLers unveil bonding proposal

© Minnesota House of Representatives
Rep. Alice Hausman said House Democrats have a “strong commitment” to finishing the restoration project and the $20 million will act as placeholder for the project when the bonding bill is in the negotiation phase.

Minnesota House Democrats unveiled a nearly $1 billion bonding proposal Tuesday that spends heavily on college campus construction projects, public safety and parks and trails but leaves out much of the money needed to finish a massive restoration of the state Capitol.

The proposal from House Capital Investment Committee Chair Alice Hausman would borrow $850 million [PDF] and spend another $125 million in cash [PDF] out of the state’s $1.2 billion budget surplus. Dayton proposed a $986 million bonding bill for construction projects in January, but the DFL-controlled Senate is waiting until after a legislative break in April to its unveil its project wish list.

Bonding bills that authorize debt require a three-fifths majority to pass in both chambers – 81 votes in the House and 41 votes in the Senate – meaning Democrats who control the Legislature need to gain Republican support. The smaller bill will only need a simple majority to pass. 

“The one word to describe this bill is ‘inadequate,’ ” Hausman said as she presented the bill before her committee Tuesday morning. She spent all weekend drafting up the package, she said, and many projects had to be cut out. Hausman said she received about $4 billion in requests from state agencies and local governments.

“It does feel a little like you are being asked to perform a miracle,” she added.

The big winners in the bill include:

  • Universities: $175 million would go to projects on the University of Minnesota campuses and $193 million for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System (MnSCU). The large projects Hausman wants to tackle at the U include $56 million to renovate the Tate Laboratory of Physics and $51 million for the Bell Museum and Planetarium.
  • Minneapolis and St. Paul: $4.5 million would go toward a Nicollet Mall revamp and St. Paul would get $14 million to expand and renovate the Children’s Museum.
  • Civic Centers: $14.5 million would go to the Minnesota State Arena and Auditorium expansion in Mankato and $30 million for the Mayo Clinic Civic Center expansion in Rochester. St. Cloud would also get about $11.5 million to expand the River’s Edge Convention Center.
  • Transportation: $21.7 million would go toward local bridge replacement and $18.3 million for local road improvement.
  • Parks and Trails: $62 million would go toward a handful of park and trail projects, flood mitigation and land acquisition.
  • Public Safety: $41 million would be dedicated to remodel the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter, and another $147 million would go out in grants to local governments for economic development projects. 

But Hausman only put in $20 million in the proposal for the high-profile Capitol restoration project. The Department of Administration says they need $126 million in the 2014 bonding bill to complete the $273 million renovation of the 105-year-old Capitol. That project is already underway and has left the Capitol basement gutted and the outside of the building swathed in protective plastic.

House members want first to resolve issues over constructing a new $90 million parking garage and office building for senators. The project awaits a vote in the House Rules Committee and has been a source of controversy all session. Senators say they need the space before they are kicked out of their Capitol offices to finish the restoration, but Dayton and House Democrats are exploring whether there is a cheaper option available.

Hausman said they have a “strong commitment” to finishing the restoration project and the $20 million will act as placeholder for the project when the bonding bill is in the negotiation phase. “We don’t quite see the path this is going to take yet this legislative session,” she said. “We are just moving an amount into conference committee.”

Republicans were initially quiet about whether they will support the proposal this session. The House Capital Investment Committee will meet again Wednesday to start taking amendments on the proposal.

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