Sports center in House bonding bill

ST. PAUL (AP) – A $975 million Minnesota House construction package released Tuesday loads up on college campus projects, provides for statewide civic center upgrades and makes another Capitol restoration installment.

The proposal comes in two parts. One authorizes $850 million in state-backed borrowing and the other draws $125 million in cash from a budget surplus.

House Capital Investment Chairwoman Alice Hausman, who preferred a plan with many more projects and a bigger price tag, didn’t hide her disappointment in her own proposal.

“The one defining word is ‘inadequate,'” Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, said.

The two-part strategy is unique and reflects the political dynamics of bonding bills; those authorizing debt require Republican votes to meet the three-fifths vote requirement while the cash bill only needs a simple majority.

That helps explain why several theater projects, which some GOP legislators have described as unnecessary, are in the second bill.

Rep. Matt Dean of Dellwood, the leading Republican on the committee, said it was too soon to declare support or opposition.

“There are some clinkers,” Dean said, declining to cite specific projects. He said he was more concerned that majority Democrats are trying to rush a large package through and that the separate cash plan puts the construction spree just shy of $1 billion.

The bill includes $4.298 million for the Southwest Minnesota Regional Amateur Sports Center in Marshall. The $2.5 million request that would go toward expansion at the MERIT Center in Marshall, however, was left out of the bill, although training centers in Cottage Grove and Maplewood did make the bill. The House bill also includes $20 million for the Lewis & Clark Regional Water System.

“It’s not a surprise the sports center made it; we did get Lewis & Clark on there, which will affect southern Minnesota, and we’ll continue to try to work things out with the MERIT Center because the local community has really stepped up for that,” said District 16A Rep. Chris Swedzinski, R-Ghent. “In the rural areas, we’re kind of outmanned, so we want to make sure the rural communities have a place at the table. We have yet to hear anything out of the Senate, and there’s a lot of time left between now and the end of session.”

Last year, GOP leaders said they would help pass a borrowing plan capped at $850 million. Hausman said she wouldn’t bring her main bill to a floor vote without getting a commitment from Republicans that they will supply at least eight votes needed if all 73 Democrats stay united. Last spring she thought she had such a pledge and saw a borrowing package fall to defeat.

Once the House passes its proposals, they must be matched up with a competing Senate version.

The University of Minnesota and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system benefit the most.

The University nets $175 million in projects, from a new chemical sciences lab on the Duluth campus to a large-scale remodeling of the James Ford Bell Museum of Natural History in Minneapolis. At MnSCU, more than $193 million has been allocated for projects spread across almost two dozen campuses. A $30 million chunk has been set aside to rehabilitate aging buildings.

There is also an emphasis on helping regional centers complete convention center fixes. Mankato, Rochester and St. Cloud share $55 million in construction money.

As for the state Capitol, which is undergoing a significant renovation, the second bill puts in $20 million more. Project planners have said they need $125 million to finish the job by 2017.

“It’s our way of saying we know this is something we are all committed to but we don’t quite know the path it is going to take this legislative session,” Hausman said.

Dean said it’s essential that lawmakers come up with the full installment to prevent costly delays in a Capitol restoration that has bipartisan support.

The Senate has yet to outline its wish list. Deliberations over a bonding package that can be sent to Gov. Mark Dayton are likely to stretch into late April, when lawmakers return from a holiday recess.