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House passes bonding bill; Wadena not included

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota colleges, roads, bridges, sewers and even the state Capitol building could get state money under a public works bill the House approved Monday and the Senate debated late.

The House voted 99-32 in favor of the bonding bill. While debating the bill Monday night, the Senate made a small funding change, which means the House will have to approve the plan again or it will go to negotiators if the Senate moves it forward.

Nearly $200 million of the $496 million proposal goes to state-run colleges and universities, with the Capitol getting $44 million to begin a renovation project that eventually will cost upwards of $220 million. The bill also sprinkles money around to projects such as flood prevention, transit, roads, bridges, home foreclosure prevention and other needs.

While the bill received broad support, Democrats generally wanted to spend more money while Republicans preferred less.

Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, said they did "pretty well" setting up the bill given the Republicans' desired spending cap. Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker, said the bill is a compromise.

"We do have the capacity to do a larger bonding bill than what is before us," Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, said as she unsuccessfully tried to add funding for the University of Minnesota.

Funds would be raised by the state selling bonds, and repaid over up to 30 years.

The bill was to be debated last week, but Howes said that Gov. Mark Dayton demanded that the University of Minnesota and MnSCU figures were closer together.

Howes, chairman of the committee that deals with public works projects, worked with others to raise the university level $10 million while cutting MnSCU spending $13 million.

A Dayton spokeswoman said the governor would not have vetoed the original bill, but he did want to more balanced spending between the two state systems.

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

"This was a way that greater Minnesota communities, who many times don't have lobbyists to speak for them, can go through DEED and get the money," Howes said.

Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, called it a "$50 million flush fund." An amendment to the bill Drazkowski offered would have moved that money to local road construction, but representatives voted it down 84-47. A similar proposal was discussed in the Senate but withdrawn.

Another Drazkowski proposal, to fund some public works projects from a sales tax increase votes approved in 2008, lost 92-37.

Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, praised the bill for spending $30 million for flood prevention.

"It will go a long way ... toward protecting our cities and communities from 100-year flood," Marquart said.

Some were not so happy. Rep. Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis, complained that the bill does not include money to fight Asian carp.

"We're saying we are going to give the carp another year to get up the Mississippi," she said about the fish that eat so much food as to leave native species wanting.

Sen. John Howe, R-Red Wing, lost 40-25 trying to add $612,000 for the Sheldon Theatre.

"This is what we should be bonding for, to support our infrastructure," he said.

Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, lost 69-62 in trying to require made in Minnesota solar energy equipment on new public facilities.

"This is a good way when you are using taxpayer money to the tune of almost half a billion dollars to support local businesses," Rukavina said.

Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, lost an attempt on a voice vote to take $250,000 earmarked for a National Guard training center and give it to designing a Bemidji veterans' home.

"We can't be taking from our current men and women serving in the National Guard," Rep. John Kriesel, R-Cottage Grove, said.

A $4.75 million community center for Wadena, to replace facilities destroyed in a 2010 tornado, was not included in the bill House and Senate leaders wrote. However, Wadena could apply for part of the $50 million in grant money.


Some projects included in the bill include:

-- $2 million to begin development of the Lake Vermillion State Park.

-- $6 million grant to provide a system along the Popular River near the North Shore to provide water for several uses, including making snow for a ski resort.

-- $3 million to build and equip a public television station in Bemidji.

-- $500,000 for Carlton County to design a pedestrian trail connection to the Willard Munger State Trail.

-- $7.2 million for Dakota County Technical College transportation and emerging technologies laboratory renovation.

-- $300,000 to design an aviation maintenance facility expansion at Northland Community and Technical College.

-- $13.9 million to design and renovate Ridgewater College's Willmar administration building and instructional spaces.

-- $4.6 million for Minnesota West Community and Technical College in Worthington to renovate classroom space.

-- $4.5 million for Itasca Community College to renovate student services areas, build an addition and demolish Donovan Hall.

Danielle Nordine contributed to this report. Nordine and Don Davis report for Forum Communications Co.