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Minn. Dems Push For Projects, But GOP Holds Key

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(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Democrats in charge of the Minnesota House on Tuesday unveiled a plan for publicly financed construction that sprinkles a host of projects across Republican-held districts, but it is unclear whether it can attract the needed GOP votes to pass.

The new proposal would pay for civic center renovations, college science labs, a state Capitol fix-up and museum and trail projects around the state. It clocks in at $858 million worth of construction, about $800 million of which would require state borrowing.

House Capital Investment Committee Chairwoman Alice Hausman said she fashioned a large plan to take advantage of low interest rates and stretch taxpayer dollars further.

“It completes projects that have been in the queue for far too long,” she said.

It is slightly larger than the bonding bill announced Monday by Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and differs in the mix of what gets funded. Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, conceded that she devised her bill with the need to find at least eight Republican votes for the supermajority required for passage. Democrats have a 73-61 House majority, but issuing state debt requires 81 House votes.

For instance, there’s $7 million for an arts center in Chatfield, which falls in the district of GOP Rep. Greg Davids. And there’s $1.3 million for a sewer project in Truman, represented by veteran Republican Rep. Bob Gunther. Costly civic center upgrades in Rochester and St. Cloud could also be hard for Republican legislators in those areas to pass on.

While Davids praised Hausman’s attempt as “a pretty good bill,” neither he nor his GOP colleagues were ready to commit to supporting it. Some have concerns about timing because bonding bills aren’t typically so big in odd-numbered years, when setting the state budget is the Legislature’s main task. Others questioned the priorities.

Rep. Bob Dettmer, R-Forest Lake, was bothered that a $54 million plan for a Minneapolis Veterans Home redevelopment was left out. The project made it into Dayton’s bill.

“We’re putting money into museums, state trails, sculpture gardens, nature centers and so forth,” Dettmer said. “I think our men and women who have served our country over the years deserve better.”

Hausman anticipated the criticism and said she is not foreclosing on the possibility of adding veterans’ home money later. But she said the Legislature needs to have a serious discussion about whether to put much of its bonding money into beefing up the Minneapolis home or parceling out money to smaller facilities around the state that can keep veterans closer to home. There is an up to year wait to get into the Minneapolis home, with almost 900 people awaiting word.

It’s not the only difference between plans from the House and governor. Dayton devotes $85 million to physics lab construction at the University of Minnesota while the House bill offers only planning money for that while dedicating $47 million to the school’s James Ford Bell Natural History Museum and Planetarium.

Both plans devote substantial funding to construction at the secure hospital in St. Peter that houses civilly committed sex offenders. And both would set aside $7 million for repairs to the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, which features the iconic cherry-in-spoon monument that often appears on visitor postcards.

By far the largest project in the House bill is a $109 million installment for a long-running renovation of the deteriorating state Capitol. The same amount is in Dayton’s proposal.

Rep. Matt Dean, the lead Republican on the panel, said the bill would stand a better chance if the must-do items got split off from the nice-to-do elements.

“We would like to see the Capitol separated so the Capitol is not held hostage to a lot of porky projects around the state,” said Dean, of Dellwood.

But Hausman said building a passing majority often requires lawmakers to stomach projects they don’t like to achieve those they do.

“Here’s the bad news about bonding bills: You don’t just get to vote for the bill that funds your project,” she said.

The committee plans to vote on the plan later in the week, but the bonding bill is likely to fall behind budget bills after that.

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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