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Dayton’s bill highlights projects in SW Minnesota

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton stands by a map Wednesday showing places he proposes to invest money in construction projects. (Don Davis/Forum News Service)

WORTHINGTON — Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton said Wednesday morning that he’s the governor for the entire state.

So, upon announcing his proposed bonding projects, he wanted to include both Metro and Greater Minnesota items in his $986 million bill.

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“I am the governor of all of Minnesota,” Dayton said. “I happen to live for the time being in St. Paul, but I’m the governor for the entire state and have a record of including the entire state as the bonding bill indicates.”

The governor’s bonding bill also includes project proposals with direct impact to southwest Minnesota. However, before any of the funding becomes final, the bills will be debated — and must be passed — in both the House and Senate.

The biggest share of area bonding bill projects is a proposed $20.203 million to the Lewis & Clark Regional Water System.

“The federal government got this thing started and is abandoning it, but that’s the reality, so I’m proposing the state pick up and complete the Minnesota sections of that project, which would go to Luverne,” Dayton said in an interview with the Daily Globe following his press conference. “If that’s approved and if I’m elected, I’ll come back in 2015 and propose paying for the rest of it, which is the part that reaches Worthington.”

Two separate bonding tours were through southwest Minnesota, and both times representatives from Lewis & Clark made their case.

“I think this will be hugely important,” Dayton said. “Everything I’m told is about economic growth in both Luverne and Worthington and the surrounding areas, and people and job opportunities. It’s an important project and I’m going to push very, very hard for it.”

Lewis & Clark Regional Water System Executive Director Troy Larson’s original rquest was more than $60 million, an amount that would have completed all work needed in the state. However, the proposed bonding bill amount from the governor would extend the pipeline to Luverne.

“That was the point we made — ‘Don’t give us enough to get to a middle of a cornfield,”’ Larson said. “When I got the news from his staff, they said it was Luverne or bust. … We were either going to get enough money to get to Luverne, or we were going to get zero.

“We did request $64 million, and the only reason we requested that was because that is what we needed to finish the project,” he continued. “We were very clear to everyone that in terms of being realistic, we just knew that was not going to happen. This was a phased approach, and this was the next phase that we had planned was to get from the state border to Luverne. We’re very, very pleased.”

While Dayton said Lewis & Clark is a worthwhile project, the amount of requests prevented the total bill to be footed.

“We had almost $3 billion of bonding requests for a bill that’s just under $1 billion, at $986 million,” Dayton said. “There are a lot of things I would have liked to have proposed we do that we simply had to set aside, at least temporarily.”

With Lewis & Clark, funding has dried up. Federal dollars have been slow in coming, with only a little more than $3 million in the budget this year.

“I don’t think you can fault anybody at the local level or state level for believing the federal government was going to be a full partner in this,” Dayton said. “They promised to see it through to the completion, and they haven’t done so. I know our delegation has worked hard on it, and I assume Iowa and South Dakota is the same.”

However, Dayton knows the area can’t wait much longer.

“The reality is, no matter what promises or assurances were made previously, either Minnesota has to shoulder the financial border for completion within the boundaries of the state in conjunction with local governments or it’s not going to happen,” he said. “If it doesn’t happen, you’re going to be in even more critical water problems in the next decade and beyond, affecting people’s quality of life and economic growth and job opportunities.”

While Lewis & Clark was a big portion of the bonding bill, other projects in southwest Minnesota were also included.

The Minnesota Veterans Home in Luverne will receive money to repair and renovate resident rooms and remodel the nurses’ station.

“It’s much needed,” Dayton said. “I’m very pleased with recommending almost $2 million to repair and renovate the Veterans Home in Luverne. It’s a benefit to the families throughout the region in southwest Minnesota.”

Minnesota West Community and Technical College was also included on the governor’s bonding bill.

“We are very pleased to see that our project for the Jackson and Canby campus is still on the governor’s list for bonding,” MW Vice President of Administration Lori Voss said. “We’re hoping that follows through with both the House and the Senate.

“There is a long way to go,” she continued. “But every time we see our name on a list like this — this is the kind of list you want to see your name on — every time they add a column to that sheet and there is still a number in the box on our line, we’re excited and still hopeful.”

Part of the funding would go toward the power line program in Jackson.

“That’s what we need — a better match between what we’re teaching young people and the jobs that are going to be available the day they complete their education and training,” Dayton said.

Other projects were presented during the regional bonding tours but did not receive funding. That included lab build out at the Biotechnology Advancement Center.

“We had over $3 billion of requests for a $986 million bill, so we’re only able to fund one third of the projects,” Dayton said. “I can’t say that is not a very worthwhile project, as are most of the ones I could not approve, which is why I’ll come back in 2015 if I’m there and say we have to expand the additional revenue stream to issue additional bonds sufficient to do all these projects. I can’t give a good reason for saying no, other than we just didn’t have the resources to do everything we wanted to do.”