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Nearly $500B bonding measure debated

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota colleges, roads, bridges, sewers and even the state Capitol building could get state money under a public works bill the House approved Monday and the Senate debated late.

The House voted 99-32 in favor of the bonding bill. While debating the bill Monday night, the Senate made a small funding change, which means the House will have to approve the plan again or it will go to negotiators if the Senate moves it forward.

Nearly $200 million of the $496 million proposal goes to state-run colleges and universities, with the Capitol getting $44 million to begin a renovation project that eventually will cost upwards of $220 million. The bill also sprinkles money around to projects such as flood prevention, transit, roads, bridges, home foreclosure prevention and other needs.

While the bill received broad support, Democrats generally wanted to spend more money while Republicans preferred less.

Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, said they did "pretty well" setting up the bill given the Republicans' desired spending cap. Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker, said the bill is a compromise.

"We do have the capacity to do a larger bonding bill than what is before us," Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, said as she unsuccessfully tried to add funding for the University of Minnesota.

Funds would be raised by the state selling bonds, and repaid over up to 30 years.

The bill was to be debated last week, but Howes said that Gov. Mark Dayton demanded that the University of Minnesota and MnSCU figures were closer together.

Howes, chairman of the committee that deals with public works projects, worked with others to raise the university level $10 million while cutting MnSCU spending $13 million.

A Dayton spokeswoman said the governor would not have vetoed the original bill, but he did want to more balanced spending between the two state systems.

Howes' bill includes $50 million that the state Department of Employment and Economic Development can hand out for economic development uses. He said it could be used projects such as those often including in the bonding bill, including civic centers that were not included in this year's bill.

"This was a way that greater Minnesota communities, who many times don't have lobbyists to speak for them, can go through DEED and get the money," Howes said.

Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, called it a "$50 million flush fund." An amendment to the bill Drazkowski offered would have moved that money to local road construction, but representatives voted it down 84-47. A similar proposal was discussed in the Senate but withdrawn.

Another Drazkowski proposal, to fund some public works projects from a sales tax increase votes approved in 2008, lost 92-37.

Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, praised the bill for spending $30 million for flood prevention.

"It will go a long way ... toward protecting our cities and communities from a 100-year flood," Marquart said.

Some were not so happy. Rep. Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis, complained that the bill does not include money to fight Asian carp.

"We're saying we are going to give the carp another year to get up the Mississippi," she said about the fish that eat so much food as to leave native species wanting.

Sen. John Howe, R-Red Wing, lost 40-25 trying to add $612,000 for the Sheldon Theatre.

"This is what we should be bonding for, to support our infrastructure," he said.

Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, lost 69-62 in trying to require made in Minnesota solar energy equipment on new public facilities.

"This is a good way when you are using taxpayer money to the tune of almost half a billion dollars to support local businesses," Rukavina said.

Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, lost an attempt on a voice vote to take $250,000 earmarked for a National Guard training center and give it to designing a Bemidji veterans' home.

"We can't be taking from our current men and women serving in the National Guard," Rep. John Kriesel, R-Cottage Grove, said.

A $4.75 million community center for Wadena, to replace facilities destroyed in a 2010 tornado, was not included in the bill House and Senate leaders wrote. However, Wadena could apply for part of the $50 million in grant money.

Danielle Nordine contributed to this report. Nordine and Don Davis report for Forum Communications Co.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.