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Don Davis | Bemidji Pioneer
Don Davis | Bemidji Pioneer

Left, right attack Dayton bonding

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news Bemidji, 56619

Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

ST. PAUL -- Attacks on Gov. Mark Dayton's public works spending proposal came from both sides, starting Tuesday even before he finished announcing his $775 million plan.

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Republicans said he wants to spend too much. Democrats praised the amount, but the Legislature's most experienced bonding expert said his fellow DFLer did not divide the money wisely.

Dayton estimated his plan would put nearly 22,000 Minnesota construction workers in jobs.

"These are public investments, but provide private-sector jobs," he said.

A public works bill is funded by the state selling bonds and repaying them with tax dollars over several years.

Dayton's proposal would fund state building repairs and renovations, flood prevention, a wellness center to replace facilities destroyed in a Wadena tornado and other state and regional projects.

"I think it probably is too big," said Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker, chairman of the House bonding committee.

Howes said that he expects a bonding of $350 million to $500 million bill to pass.

"From what I am sensing ... I think they are a little more open, to not a large one, but more than a mini-bonding bill," Howes said of fellow Republicans.

On the Democratic-Farmer-Laborite side, there was plenty of praise for Dayton proposing to spend the most allowed under the current budget. But Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, was not happy with some specifics.

Langseth said Dayton's proposal of $20 million for flood-prevention projects doesn't come close to meeting the state's needs. He wants to spend $55 million.

"We're not going to be able to do much with that," Langseth said.

Langseth ran for this one final term in the Senate just to make sure flood projects, especially those in the Red River Valley, were fully funded.

Langseth long has been a legislative bonding leader.

The senator also said Dayton fell short on funding higher education, sewer systems and bridges.

Dayton recommends $20 million each for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities and University of Minnesota systems for projects such as roof replacements and other improvements to existing buildings.

MnSCU requested $110 million and the University of Minnesota $90 million for general maintenance and repairs. Officials of both systems said they were disappointed with Dayton's numbers.

Dayton said his plan is "about the future of the state."

"The timing could not be better," he added, citing low interest rates on bonds and low construction costs.

"Minnesotans need jobs," he said, with a half-dozen construction workers wearing hard hats standing behind him.

Dayton suggested that legislators, who start their 2012 session Tuesday, pass a bonding bill in February to get construction under way this year. Howes said that will not happen because lawmakers need to receive a Feb. 29 budget report before deciding how much to spend on public works projects.

Dayton's office said the $775 million would leverage other money from federal and local sources to make the total impact of his proposal $1.5 billion.

To Howes, projects like improving a Minneapolis sculpture garden and building a light-rail line in the southwestern Twin Cities have little chance.

"Let's do the important things," Howes said. "If there is money left over we can do the fun, wasted-money, stuff."

However, Howes liked Dayton's call to spend $27 million on a St. Paul baseball park. It would be home to the Saints professional team and host baseball tournaments that include teams from around the state.

"St. Paul doesn't get a lot of things from the state," Howes said.

Amy Dalrymple of The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead contributed to this story.

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