ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Gov. Mark Dayton appealed to lawmakers to authorize $842 million in new state debt for public works construction, saying Tuesday it would be “imprudent” for them to skip consideration given that interest rates are still low and there’s high demand for infrastructure upgrades.
In promoting his list of preferred projects, Dayton struck back against the notion that the Legislature’s plate is too crowded before the session ends May 18 to craft a borrowing bill and a two-year budget. Majority House Republican lawmakers say they are reluctant to pass a construction package this year, creating a high hurdle for a bill that requires three-fifths votes to pass.
Dayton’s roster includes $48 million toward completion of the Lewis and Clark Water System in southwestern Minnesota, $78 million to improve railroad safety and upgrade crossing zones around the state, $20 million to deal with Capitol renovation cost overruns and tens of millions for work on new or existing college labs, classrooms and offices. There are also allocations for zoo exhibits, state park and historic site enhancements, small-town emergency response facilities and even $360,000 toward replacement of the city pool in tiny Hallock.
Dayton’s administration said 43 percent of the proposed projects benefit greater Minnesota, 38 percent fall in the seven-county metropolitan area and 19 percent are deemed to have statewide significance. The plan would require $78 million in state debt payments over the next two years and more into the future.
If lawmakers don’t pass a bill this year, Dayton said those with projects at stake shouldn’t bank on seeing them in a plan he produces for consideration in next year’s session. The Democratic governor said he drew from $1.9 billion in requests - a figure he expects to at least double before lawmakers reconvene in 2016.
“For a lot of legislators looking at projects that benefit their citizens, their constituents they need to understand that this is an opportunity that may not come around again,” Dayton warned. “This is not a threat. It’s just a statement of fact.”
House Capital Investment Committee Chairman Paul Torkelson said the GOP budget proposal doesn’t include room for extra debt payments and his panel doesn’t plan to adequately scrutinize projects until after legislators adjourn for the year. House Speaker Kurt Daudt, the Legislature’s top Republican, wasn’t swayed by the governor’s nod to low interest rates as a reason to act now.
“I don’t think interest rates will be that much different this year than they will be next year,” Daudt said.
Senate Capital Investment Committee Chairman LeRoy Stumpf, a Democrat, wouldn’t close the door on passing a borrowing plan.
“The infrastructure of the state is in need of money to keep everything in shape,” he said.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, another Democrat, said he’s contemplating a package with a narrower focus and lower price tag. Bakk stressed the Senate’s top priority is crafting a budget - a bonding bill is more of an afterthought.
“That’s not the real work of this session,” he said.
Minnesota lawmakers typically consider a tailored bonding bill in budget-setting sessions but hold off on a large plan until the election year. Dayton’s bill is far larger than others adopted in odd-numbered years. That said, the Legislature has declined to approve a general borrowing bill of some size only twice in the past 32 years.
A full list of proposed projects is at https://mn.gov/mmb/budget/capital-budget/
Associated Press writers Kia Farhang and Kyle Potter contributed to this report.
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