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Bonding bill sent to governor

ST. PAUL -- A plan to borrow $500 million for public works projects is headed to Gov. Mark Dayton, who is expected to sign it into law.

The Minnesota Legislature approved a public works borrowing bill, which includes money for flood prevention, transit, infrastructure projects such as roads and bridges and other needs. Nearly $200 million of the proposal goes to state-run colleges and universities and $44 million to Capitol building renovations.

The House voted 97-33 Tuesday to agree with slight changes to the bill the Senate made when members approved it Monday night.

Bill author Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker, said he was pleased with the final bill and its passage.

"I like the whole bill the way it's put together," he said.

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

Howes said the funding pool will provide a good opportunity for those throughout the state, especially in greater Minnesota, to find funds for projects.

But Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, called it a "$50 million slush fund."

"It's serving as a little bundle of hope" for those projects that were not funded in the main bill in order to garner votes, Drazkowski said.

Howes said requests for bonding dollars often top $2 billion, and the included projects were chosen carefully.

The executive branch and DEED would handle applications and fund distribution, which bothered some.

"We're legislators," Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook, said. "Let's decide these projects in the Legislature."

Drazkowski offered an amendment that would have moved that money to local road construction, but representatives voted it down. Similar proposals were discussed in the Senate but not approved.

A number of lawmakers tried to add local projects to the bill during debates, but most were unsuccessful.

Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, said there were many "meritorious" projects proposed, but "we're trying to keep this bill within the confines of $496 million."

Some Republicans said even that is too much borrowing.

"The appetite for wants is greater than what fiscal responsibility provides," Drazkowski said.

Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, said they did "pretty well" setting up the bill given the Republicans' desired spending cap. He said the piece that is most important for northwestern Minnesota is the $30 million for flood control.

"This will go a long way to help Moorhead and other communities to finish up their flood control projects," Langseth said.

Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, said he voted against the bill because it ignored Duluth.

"The bill fell far short of accomplishing what a substantial, regionally balanced bonding package could have done for our community and our state," Reinert said.