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DFL legislators talk bonding at BSU; Thissen says spending cap likely to change

Minnesota Speaker of the House Paul Thissen speaks to Bemidji media and community members inside Memorial Hall at BSU. The building is one of several on campus that will be renovated or demolished as part of an extensive renovation for which BSU has requested $13.79 million in this year’s state bonding bill. Next to Thissen are (left to right) Rep. Roger Erickson, DFL-Baudette, Bemidji Mayor Rita Albrecht and Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji. Zach Kayser | Bemidji Pioneer

Zach Kayser

BEMIDJI — Minnesota Speaker of the House Paul Thissen highlighted BSU’s $13.79 million request for state bonding money at a town hall meeting Wednesday inside the college’s Memorial Hall lobby.

Thissen, accompanied by local leaders and state legislators, said the renovations to public buildings like Memorial Hall would be an “important part” of the state bonding bill. Memorial Hall is one of several buildings to be renovated or rebuilt as part of BSU’s plan.

Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, said giving bond aid to the project would be an example of the state aiming to get the best value for their money. He pointed to a plaque in the lobby that said Memorial Hall was completed in 1940 — 74 years ago. The project to fix Memorial as well as several other buildings is already nearly ready to go, he said.

“As our bonding bill hits the road this spring, they’re going to be ready to do work … in this hall, and the adjacent buildings,” he said. “We’ve got so much good going at Bemidji State University, and we want to keep that moving forward.”

Bemidji Mayor Rita Albrecht reminded Thissen and those in attendance the Bemidji Carnegie Library has a request for bonding, too — for the relatively small sum of $800,000.

The Carnegie Library was not included in the governor’s proposed list of projects to receive bond funding, or that of House bonding committee chair Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul.


Republicans and DFLers in the legislature agreed on a bonding limit of $850 million, but Thissen said in an interview after the town hall event that while he wanted to stick with that agreement for now, there was a “decent chance” the cap would be renegotiated as legislators gain a bigger appetite for infrastructure projects.

“On both sides of the aisle, there’s interest in getting more projects done,” he said. “I’m willing to do more if we can get the Republican leadership to to join in.”

In Hausman’s proposed bill, she reluctantly suggested adding $125 million in cash from the state’s budget surplus to supplement the $850 million in bonds. Thissen said he supports that idea if a bigger bonding bill can’t be agreed upon.

“If we can’t do a bigger bonding bill, I don’t think there’s any question we need to be using cash,” he said. “I’d rather do it all with bonding, because I think it’s just the best way to do long-term projects, but I’m certainly very open to doing it with cash as well.”

Thissen also said there was a “very good chance” BSU’s request would make it into the final bill.

“Higher education, housing and transportation… are our three biggest priorities generally speaking,” he said. “This project would certainly fall within that.”