Dayton asks for $1.5B in construction projects

Published 10:25 am Thursday, January 5, 2017

ST. PAUL — Gov. Mark Dayton challenged Minnesota lawmakers on Wednesday to approve $1.5 billion in public construction projects before the end of January, a tall order for a Republican-controlled Legislature that has shown little appetite for such a large push.

Dayton’s wish list, which he’s tweaked since last session, spans from millions of dollars of upkeep on college campuses, wastewater infrastructure repairs and road and bridge renovations to prized projects like a new health science building at the University of Minnesota.

Much of the so-called bonding bill was comprised of $1 billion in projects the Legislature nearly signed off on last session — a fact the Democratic governor hoped would sway lawmakers to act quickly and allow construction to begin this spring.

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“This is catch-up. That’s why it’s so vital to be done this first month of the legislative session,” he said during a conference call.

The rapid start to the 2017 legislative session, which pits lawmakers with a hefty agenda, began Tuesday with the governor urging lawmakers to pass a rebate to reduce health insurance premiums on the state-run individual market by week’s end.

The lack of a bonding bill during an even-numbered year was a rarity for the Legislature, which generally approves major construction packages when the pressure to pass a new budget has subsided. Republican legislative leaders haven’t ruled out a borrowing bill this session, but have made clear their first priorities are assembling a two-year budget and addressing spiking health insurance costs.

“Certainly, I think it’s unfortunate that we’ve had a setback of two years without an infrastructure bill,” House Speaker Kurt Daudt said Tuesday.

Dayton’s bill would get a head start on a backlog of needed road and bridge repairs, but won’t let the Legislature off the hook for finalizing a long-term transportation funding plan. Projects to boost water quality, one of Dayton’s top priorities for his last two years, stand to get nearly $170 million.

Dayton also is seeking money to keep the state’s sex offender program, which a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday is constitutional, in good standing.

About $12 million would go toward building less restrictive facilities to complement the secure buildings in Moose Lake and St. Peter where more than 700 committed sex offenders are currently held. Department of Human Services Commissioner Emily Piper said the courts have ordered provisional discharges for six people who are still being held because there’s no place to send them that can provide the close supervision required.

“I have an obligation to runs a program that meets the test of the Constitution,” Piper said.

Another $14.5 million would be used to add 30 beds to facilities at St. Peter that currently hold 89 people approaching release. The last time it expanded, it filled up immediately, Piper said.

Dayton asked lawmakers to look past the sticker shock of his full request.

“The cost of not doing these projects, I think, is much greater than the cost of doing them,” he said.