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Dayton eyes $975 million in construction projects

ST. PAUL (AP) — Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton said Wednesday he is considering sending lawmakers a state construction bill of $975 million, which is substantially higher than prior expectations.

Dayton met privately with key legislators involved in assembling the public works borrowing bill. He said a recent economic forecast showing a budget surplus gives the state more room to pay for debt on authorized projects. He had earlier been trying to squeeze his wishes into a $775 million package.

Lawmakers have been inundated with $2.4 billion worth of requests. Dayton said the ongoing Capitol renovation will consume $125 million in next year's bonding bill. The state's prison system and sex offender treatment facilities also have steep needs, from a fence around the women's prison in Shakopee to overdue upgrades at the prison in St. Cloud.

The Democratic governor will submit his formal proposal in January.

The bonding bill requires a three-fifths majority to pass, so majority Democrats must win over Republican votes. The specter of nearing or breaching $1 billion always proves politically challenging. But Dayton said some things are too important to put off.

“The needs are very real and anybody who wants a lesser bill is just going to have to say ‘No’ to more good projects,” Dayton told reporters.

Dayton said he wouldn't mind scaling back one previously authorized project. He said a planned office building on the Capitol campus for state senators could be curtailed. Dayton said he supports the underlying project, but has asked his Department of Administration to find savings and seek a modest design.