ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Gov. Mark Dayton asked Minnesota’s GOP-led Legislature to borrow $1 billion for construction projects on Monday, pitching civic centers, a minor league baseball park, college labs and flood protection measures as a way to create jobs.
The Democratic governor unveiled his first bonding recommendations with a twist by outlining his preferences for $531 million worth of projects and offering lawmakers the chance to fill in the rest. He urged the Legislature to pass a bill within weeks so work can begin when winter ends — a prospect that top Republicans ruled out unless emergencies arise.
“These are public bonds that create jobs in the private sector,” Dayton said at a Capitol news conference packed with city officials, union representatives, college students and construction workers in hard hats.
Dayton predicted the full-size package of state-backed public works would create as many as 28,000 jobs, a figure met with skepticism from the Legislature’s GOP leaders. They also weren’t enticed by the governor’s offer to propose their own construction priorities. Minnesota is facing a projected $6.2 billion shortfall over the next two years.
“It’s not a gift card for us. It’s the taxpayers’ money that is being borrowed for construction jobs,” said House Majority Leader Matt Dean, R-Dellwood.
Public works packages are called bonding bills because the state borrows the money by issuing bonds.
Dayton’s requests include $51 million for a nanotechnology laboratory at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, $28 million to upgrade Rochester’s Mayo Civic Center and $20 million for a new St. Paul Saints ballpark in St. Paul. Civic centers in Mankato and St. Cloud would also get a bonding boost. Dayton said he picked projects based on their readiness and included repairs that could be done quickly.
“It’s 400 construction jobs that would be immediate, probably within the month. They are ready to go,” said Rochester Mayor Ardell Brede of the Mayo Civic Center project, thanking Dayton for including it in his proposal.
One of the smaller items is $600,000 for a new stoplight in Thief River Falls near Digi-Key Corp., a business that all major gubernatorial candidates touted during the campaign as a Minnesota success story. Dayton even offered to dig the hole for the stoplight, which he says would help facilitate the company’s expansion.
Also on the list: a $7 million renovation in St. Peter to house a growing number of sex offenders committed to treatment after prison time. There are also roads and bridges and repairs to college, park, prison and veterans buildings.
Republicans said the focus should be on Minnesota’s deficit and private-sector jobs. They didn’t rule out legislative approval for bonding projects considered urgent, such as flood protection. They also plan hearings to probe unspent balances from past bonding bill projects that never got off the ground and possibly recoup that money.
“We’re saying no to a bonding bill unless it’s an emergency at this time,” said House Capital Investment Committee Chairman Larry Howes, R-Walker.
Dayton said he would sign a smaller bonding bill into law if the Legislature sends it to him.
(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)