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House bonding leader urges local officials to push for bill

Three Minnesota state representatives huddle Tuesday before hearing a bill funding public works projects. From left they are Reps. Dean Urdahl of Grove City, Bob Dettmer of Forest Lake and Steve Green of Fosston. Don Davis | Forum News Service

ST. PAUL – Communities across Minnesota should pressure lawmakers to support a public works funding bill, its House sponsor said.

“I think those local communities absolutely have a vested interest in this bill,” Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, said Tuesday after introducing her $800 million measure to fund projects ranging from renovating the state Capitol building to fixing college roofs.

She used Red Wing as an example.

“Red Wing wants this bill desperately,” she said, because of provisions that would help with Mississippi River flood protection and a trail while at the same time improving access to a grain terminal that loads up to 500 barges a year.

Hausman said Red Wing officials need to convince local legislators to support the overall public works projects bill, to be funded by the state selling bonds.

The Capital Investment Committee chairwoman’s message was that her bonding bill needs a wide range of support.

“I need all the Democrats to vote for it and I need eight Republicans,” she said.

Republicans were not ready to commit to the bill.

“Our caucus priority is not on a bonding bill at this point,” Rep. Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, said, adding  a state budget needs to pass first.

Hausman said the bill would help Minnesota continue its recovery from recession.

“As Minnesota’s economy continues to recover, this bill will go a long way to helping put people to work while improving and preserving our critical statewide infrastructure repairs,” Hausman said. “Many of these projects are shovel- and paint-ready and can be started almost immediately.”

The Hausman bill looks a lot like a public works funding plan Gov. Mark Dayton released Monday.

A committee vote on the House bill is set for Thursday. There is no indication when, or if, the Senate will produce its own bonding bill.

Like the Dayton bill, the House plan’s biggest project is $109 million to step up renovation of the 108-year-old Capitol. Another $94 million or $95 million would be needed next year to complete the multi-year project.

Dean said he would prefer that $109 million slated for state Capitol building renovation be presented in a separate bill rather than folded into a measure with more controversial issues.

An issue Hausman admitted will be controversial is her decision not to spend $54.1 million Dayton wants to update a Minneapolis veterans’ home building.

Hausman said a comprehensive plan is needed about how to best serve veterans, perhaps moving away from sending many to Minneapolis. Some legislators are pushing for veterans’ homes in Bemidji, Brainerd and elsewhere, but Hausman wondered if they could be better served in nursing homes or their own homes.

The $5.3 million Hausman includes in her bill would fund improvements in existing veterans’ homes, including in Fergus Falls, Hastings, Luverne and Silver Bay.

Also in the Hausman bill:

- $47.5 million to build a new University of Minnesota natural resources museum on the school’s St. Paul campus.

- $6 million to replace the university’s bee research facility.

- $5.2 million to replace a Minnesota State community and Technical College, Moorhead building.

- $16.2 million for trails around the state.

- $103.2 million to Improve and add buildings at the University of Minnesota and $89 million for Minnesota State Colleges and Universities.

- Funds to complete Mankato, St. Cloud and Rochester civic centers.

“We have an obligation to preserve our important infrastructure in this state,” Hausman said. “This bill is regionally balanced, will create jobs and help push us out of recession.”

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.