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House group hears regional bonding requests during Worthington visit

Worthington City Administrator Craig Clark (left) shows Bioverse’s premier product to members of the Minnesota House of Representatives during a tour of the Biotechnology Advancement Center Thursday. (BRIAN KORTHALS/DAILY GLOBE)

WORTHINGTON —Three out of four times, Rep. Alice Hausman has to say no.

The chair person of the Minnesota House of Representatives Capital Investment Committee, Hausman and other members made a stop in Worthington Thursday on their annual tour to hear bonding requests.

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“I say no more than I say yes,” Hausman said following Thursday’s presentation at Minnesota West Community and Technical College in Worthington. “Usually I like to be kind and gentle. Sometimes people say I should be not as kind and gentle. You try to help people understand that we actually hear you, but there are $4 billion worth of requests and we can do less than $1 billion. I’m going to say no to three out of four.”

The key, Hausman said, is to be equitable to all areas of the state.

“I have to ask myself what’s the fair distribution of taxpayer dollars and what infrastructure has to be in place in order for the economy to thrive,” she said. “You can’t build a system of wastewater and roads and higher ed all by yourself. You need to do it collectively.”

Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, said he welcomed the committee to the area.

“It’s all about an education process,” Hamilton said. “It’s nice to where the legislators on that committee can come out here and hear right from the people who are working on the various projects, so it’s extremely important.”

The first stop in Worthington was at the Bioscience Advancement Center. The city is asking for $398,000 to finish the lab portion of the building. 

“The request we are making is for technical reasons,” said Abraham Algadi, manager of the Worthington Regional Economic Development Corp. “It appears the BAC laboratories were not completed as part of the first funding round. It could have been the expenses weren’t eligible or wasn’t spoken for in the law. We are short about $398,000 to complete the laboratories section. It will provide four laboratory stations that can do a number of things.”

Algadi said the lab could be used by educational institutions, small businesses and animal sciences. 

“I’m a strong supporter of that; that’s an easy one,” Hausman said of the BAC lab. “It was in our bill last year — it will be in our bill this year, no question. That’s entrepreneurs and business people locally, education and everything. That’s a no-brainer for me. 

“That’s part of what keeps Worthington healthy and economically competitive,” Hausman added. “I’m a true believer and a strong supporter of that.”

At the next stop, the committee heard three more requests. Minnesota West is asking for improvements for the power line technology training facility, relocating existing ITV classrooms in Jackson and upgrading the HVAC system in Canby. 

Before hearing the requests, the committee had a tour of the newly renovated and expanded Center for Health and Wellness — for which bonding dollars helped fund.

“We always start with higher education — that’s always the biggest part of the bonding bill,” Hausman said. “We love to see a finished product, and today we saw a finished product. They still told about all their asset preservation needs, and we have a strong commitment to our partnership with higher ed. That’s the future — that’s the training of the workforce of the future — and colleges and universities are a measurable part of our economic competitiveness. That’s a done deal and a strong commitment.”

The committee also heard from the city of Windom, which is looking for money to build a new hockey arena. 

The last presentation of the night was for Lewis and Clark Regional Water System. The Minnesota members still need $62 million to connect the four entities. 

“I worked with this group a long time ago and we thought we understood. We were going to go our state share and now we’re done,” Hausman said. “But suddenly, the federal government fails. 

“As I said, this is not just an issue of water,” Hausman continued. “It’s in transportation, veterans housing and all those areas. What used to be a stream of money from Washington — we send our tax dollars there and it was a stream of federal money — isn’t happening. All of the burden is falling on the state. First we have to have a conversation with our congressional people and say, ‘How are we going to get our act together?’”

Because of the number of projects, Hausman said the bonding bill could be large. 

“I have to tell you, I look around the room at legislators, this would be a really big bonding bill,” Hausman said. “But your local legislators haven’t been voting for really big bonding bills. That’s difficult for me. I’m going to write a big bonding bill that’s going to respond to all these needs, but they have to be willing to vote for it and pass it.”

A bonding bill is harder to pass because it requires more than just a majority, Hausman said.

“When I write that bill, everyone in the state should be able to look at it and say, ‘She was fair to everybody,’” she said. “But that means everybody has to be willing to vote a bill that’s fair to everybody. That might be big because it has to cover everything, like a problem like Lewis and Clark. It might be bigger than they want. It might fund projects in the Metro area they don’t like. 

“But the point is, you never get the opportunity to vote for a bonding bill that just funds your projects. The local legislators have to be willing to vote for a robust bill, and that’s a problem.”

Hamilton, however, said he has — and will — support bonding bills.

“Every bonding year, I’ve supported every bonding bill since I’ve been up there,” Hamilton said. “Where it gets dicey is the non-bonding years when we’re focused on a budget. The budget years are just that — let’s take care of business and get the budget done and come back the following years to do the bonding requests. 

“We need to weigh that out — we can’t put our bond rating in jeopardy, and it’s a balancing act there as well,” Hamilton added. “But like I said — since I’ve been up there, I have supported bonding bills on bonding years.”

Community Content Coordinator Aaron Hagen may be reached at 376-7323.

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