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House to review public works bill

ST. PAUL - The Minnesota House will decide today whether to send a nearly $500 million public works borrowing bill to the governor or continue work on it.

On Monday, the House and Senate passed slightly different versions of the bill, which would allow state funds to go toward colleges, roads, bridges, flood prevention and the state Capitol building, among other needs throughout the state.

The Senate, which approved the bill 45-22, shifted some money to allow for funding new projects during its Monday debate. The House either can accept changes made by the Senate or send the bill to a joint conference committee where lawmakers will work out the differences.

A number of legislators tried to add local projects to the bill, 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."

Democrats have pushed for spending more on the public works borrowing bill while Republicans want to keep the spending cap low.

The House approved its version of the bill 99-32 Monday before the Senate debate.

Nearly $200 million of the proposal would go 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 throughout the state.

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.

The new 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 for 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 slush 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.

A plan from Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, to provide more than $7 million for building the American Indian Learning Resource Center at the University of Minnesota-Duluth lost on a 33-33 tie vote.

"This is important history to preserve, and what better place to do it than the University of Minnesota?" Bakk said.

Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Cottage Grove, had her plan to provide $50,000 to a Cottage Grove business incubator program rejected on a voice vote.

Sen. Tony Lourey, DFL-Kerrick, asked for $250,000 for a similar project at Pine Technical College, but his amendment was voted down 35-32.

Sen. John Carlson, R-Bemidji, lost 47-20 a plan to provide grant funding to public entities using biomass energy products.

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.

The Senate voted 50-14 against including $4.75 million for a community center for Wadena, to replace facilities destroyed in a 2010 tornado. The project was not included in the bill House and Senate leaders wrote. However, Wadena could apply for part of the $50 million in grant money.

"The community's been in the process of rebuilding ever since 2010," Sen. Gretchen Hoffman, R-Vergas, said.

Don Davis and Danielle Nordine report for Forum Communications Co.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.