Capitol redo tops bonding project list

Published 11:39 am Tuesday, April 9, 2013

ST. PAUL — A $109 million commitment to state Capitol restoration tops a list of Minnesota projects backed Monday by Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton, who will need the votes of minority party Republicans to authorize financing for the more than $800 million in construction work.

His wish list also includes substantial funding for new labs at public universities, a new building on the Minneapolis Veterans Home campus and civic center improvements in Mankato, Rochester and St. Cloud.

In all, Dayton would finance $812 million worth of projects, relying on $750 million in state borrowing and the rest from other sources.

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That’s large for an off-year package — the Legislature usually doesn’t fashion a major construction projects bill in the same year it sets the state budget.

“Each one had its own imperative and I think each one will be very beneficial,” Dayton said. “I also know that they’re not all going to make it to the finish line given the nature of the Legislature, which will have its own ideas.”

Dayton said low interest rates make it a prime time to borrow for projects that are ready to go. He said the package as a whole would support thousands of construction jobs.

The bonding bill is a rare example this year of where GOP buy-in is necessary. It takes a three-fifths vote to pass one; Democrats are short of that margin on their own.

House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt said Republicans want to keep focus on the budget for now.

“At this point we don’t think it’s appropriate to talk about borrowing money before we know where we are going to spend our money,” Daudt said.

Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said Dayton’s plan is “excessively large,” and didn’t know whether Democrats could attract three GOP votes in his chamber to pass a bill.

Republicans have been generally supportive of ongoing fixes to the century-old Capitol. The latest installment is needed to keep the project on pace for a 2016 completion.

Scaffolding has become a fixture outside as crews repair the aging marble exterior, but a host of upgrades from the building’s plumbing to its electrical systems are needed. If the next phase is approved, lawmakers would be temporarily displaced with the possibility of some legislative sessions being held at remote locations.

Administration Commissioner Spencer Cronk said if there are gaps in funding it would mean costly delays.

“We can either do this once and for all and make sure we are preserving this Capitol for the next 100 years or we can see this in a constant state of asset preservation,” Cronk said.

“Every time they put up scaffolding, they hear it from me,” Dayton chimed in. “It’s not going to be easy. It’s not going to be pleasant. It’s going to be disruptive. But everybody recognizes we have to get it done.”

House Democrats were due to release their version of the plan Tuesday. A proposal from the Democratic-led Senate hasn’t been assembled yet.

House Capital Investment Committee Chairwoman Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, said many — but not all — of the big projects in Dayton’s proposal will be in the House version.

“Our starting points are compatible,” she said.

Other elements of the Dayton plan include:

—$85 million for the renovation of a physics laboratory at the University of Minnesota, among the $100 million in projects slated for the four-campus school. Science classroom projects are also a central part of the $89 million in work on Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system campuses.

—$54 million for demolition of old buildings and the construction of new facilities at the Minneapolis Veterans Home.

—$50 million in prison upgrades, including $5 million to put a fence around the women’s prison in Shakopee, where the perimeter currently consists of hedges.

—$35 million to expand and remodel the civic center in Rochester, $14.5 million for Mankato’s civic center expansion and $10 million for civic center work in St. Cloud.