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Lawmakers back Capitol fix, but other projects more controversial

Rep. Larry Howes of Walker looks through a report about renovating the state Capitol building Tuesday before the committee he leads approved spending $221 million on the project. DON DAVIS | BEMIDJI PIONEER

ST. PAUL - Fixing the Minnesota Capitol building's crumbling outside walls and aging interior won easy approval from a key House committee Tuesday, but funding other public works projects around the state may prove more controversial.

The Capitol renovation project earned support from all but one member of the House committee that recommends public works funding, with one more committee stop before it reaches the full House. No one argued against the expected four-year Capitol renovations, only about details about how to fund the work.

However, today's meeting of the House Capital Investment Committee likely will be much more contentious, seeing how the House Republican public works proposal would spend $280 million, far below Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton's $776 million plan.

Senate Republicans are expected to release their measure in the next few days. Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, has said he expects it to spend about $500 million.

Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker, said the bill his committee approved Tuesday and today's bill should pass the full House early in April, pretty much like it left his committee.

Democrats complained that paying for all the Capitol construction at once means the public works bill to be considered Wednesday must be too small.

Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, said she would prefer to spread the Capitol funding out in phases so other projects would benefit.

Howes said that House leaders limited how much could be in the bill.

If last year's $521 million public works bill is added to the Capitol proposal and Wednesday's bill, total public works spending would top $1 billion, he said, among the most spent in a two-year period.

Dayton was not happy with the Howes plan.

"The governor noted that the Republicans in the Legislature say that they are for jobs, but they have turned down every opportunity to put people back to work this session," spokeswoman Katharine Tinucci said. "Actions speak louder than words. The governor's bonding proposal would put thousands of Minnesotans to work, but based on the size of their proposal, thousands would be left on the bench."

The GOP plan leaves out or drastically trims most city projects, such as major proposed civic centers in St. Cloud and Rochester. Among items not in the House bill is a $4.75 million request to build a wellness center in Wadena to replace facilities destroyed by a 2010 tornado.

The proposal concentrates on fixing state facilities such as college and university buildings. It also funds $30 million in road and bridge improvements, more than Dayton suggested in his bonding proposal.

For flood protection, Dayton included $20 million statewide. The House specifies $4.1 million for the Red River area and $300,000 for Lake Oscar in Douglas County, but does not provide as much flood-relief money.

Howes said that a conference committee with the Senate, after both bodies pass their versions of the bill, could add in more flood money. However, that money might need to come from other projects.

The House would spend $39 million on the University of Minnesota, mostly to repair facilities. Dayton suggested $78 million.

For Minnesota State Colleges and Universities schools, the House proposes spending $56.5 million, compared to Dayton's $111.9 million.

The public works projects would be funded by the state selling bonds, to be repaid over up to 30 years.