Senate pulls wraps off $1.1B construction plan

Published 11:58 am Monday, May 5, 2014

ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Senate’s proposal for publicly backed construction projects totals more than $1.1 billion in combined borrowing and cash-financed projects, from refurbishing aging buildings on college campuses to flood mitigation to theater restorations.

The proposal released Monday calls for borrowing of $846 million and about $200 million in cash from the state’s surplus.

“The committee understands the tremendous need out there,” Senate Capital Investment Committee Chairman LeRoy Stumpf said as the Plummer Democrat outlined the proposal, adding that the bill could have easily topped $3 billion given worthy projects in the mix. “Obviously that is not possible for us to do.”

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Beginning last year, committee members traveled more than 2,450 miles to scope out 170 potential projects.

The bonding bill, as it is known in the Legislature, is one of a few major bills that lawmakers hope to pass before adjourning their election-year session.

The largest single item is $126 million to finish the Capitol renovation; the Senate’s plan would pay for that in cash.

Majority Democrats in the House and Senate need some Republican votes to meet a three-fifths passing threshold on the borrowing plan. The separate but connected cash bill requires only a simple majority. GOP leaders planned a news conference later in the day to weigh in.

The House has yet to vote on its version, but could this week.

About one-third of the combined proceeds in the Senate bill would go to state colleges and universities for new buildings or renovation of existing structures. Science labs would be upgraded at the University of Minnesota and on campuses overseen by the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system.

There’s $80 million devoted to affordable housing projects, which Stumpf said represents the largest investment of that type in state history. The Senate proposal is more generous than Gov. Mark Dayton’s recommendation on that front.

The bill also authorizes money to build out the new state park at Lake Vermilion, to finish restoration of the state Capitol, to repair local bridges, to remodel the state’s security hospital in St. Peter and to press ahead with a major water pipeline in southwestern Minnesota. Civic center upgrades in Rochester, St. Cloud and Mankato would get a boost, as would theater repairs across the state.