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Dayton proposes borrowing $1.4 billion for public works projects

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton knows his $1.4 billion public works project plan cannot happen as proposed."It's like pushing a boulder uphill," he said Friday in announcing his proposal, one of the largest such requests in history and a b...

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Looking up to the heavens, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton wonders Friday what his father would have thought about his funding of arts programs. Bruce Dayton, who died last fall, was a major arts supporter. (Don Davis/Forum News Service)

ST. PAUL - Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton knows his $1.4 billion public works project plan cannot happen as proposed.
“It’s like pushing a boulder uphill,” he said Friday in announcing his proposal, one of the largest such requests in history and a big target for Republicans who prefer spending much less.
Knowing the opposition he faces, he began a campaign for the measure saying this is a good time to borrow money, through the state selling bonds.
“Today is the day we talk about investing in the future of Minnesota,” Dayton said.
Even though the figure is among the highest in history, it would fund just 37 percent of the funding requested by state officials and local leaders.
Commissioner Myron Frans of Minnesota Management and Budget said that if the Dayton plan were enacted, it would attract $600 million in federal matching funds.
“If we short shrift these projects and others ... we are going to incapacitate Minnesota in the years ahead,” Dayton said.
He said he anticipated Republican opposition, which came moments after his announcement.
“Gov. Dayton’s historically large borrowing proposal should be cut in half before we even begin talking about statewide priorities and specific projects,” Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said.
After hearing the comment, Democrat Dayton said that was “a good line,” but the governor suggested that Hann and other Republicans look over projects that would not be funded by such a cut.
House Majority Leader Joyce Peppin, R-Rogers, said she was disappointed that Dayton would fund few transportation projects.
“Fixing our state’s roads and bridges is a priority for Minnesotans in all parts of the state, and should be one of the first priorities in any bonding bill,” Peppin said.
Dayton said that transportation issues will come in a debate separate from his general bonding bill.
Democratic lawmakers said the Dayton plan is a good start.
“The governor’s bill goes a long way toward helping support and revive our state’s aging infrastructure system,” said Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, D-Plummer, who leads the Senate’s public works committee. “Minnesota received around $3.5 billion in bonding requests, and by traveling the state for six weeks this fall it’s clear to me that there is a significant need for investments to maintain critical infrastructure systems like wastewater and safe drinking water, roads and bridges, colleges and universities and so much more.”
A bonding bill requires legislative approval, and since Republicans control the House the Dayton plan is expected to be a tough sell.
Security concerns were high on Dayton’s agenda.
The largest single project Dayton wants is $70 million to improve the St. Peter state hospital security. Staff members have been injured and Dayton said the public’s safety is threatened.
The hospital houses some of the state’s most dangerous mentally ill and sex offender patients.
Another security issue Dayton tries to address is spending $14.5 million on a St. Peter sex offender program and another $12.4 million to construct two new offender treatment centers.
A federal judge has ruled Minnesota no longer may hold sex offenders indefinitely in prison-like hospital wings. He said they need a chance to be released.
Although the judge’s ruling is under appeal, Dayton said it is right to try to move some offenders out from behind barbed wire.
“There are a lot of things I would rather do,” Dayton said, other than building facilities for sex offenders.
He also deals with the fact that the state prison system is 500 inmates over capacity.
The governor proposes to spend $8.5 million to add room for 135 inmates in two existing facilities. He said new, shorter drug offender sentences and other measures could help fix the problem.
With North Dakota oil flowing through Minnesota on trains and in pipelines, Dayton proposes funds to improve safety in his state.
He calls for spending nearly $70 million to build overpasses or underpasses at railroad-road junctions in Moorhead, Prairie Island Indian Community and Coon Rapids. He proposed them a year ago, but no agreement was reached on transportation funding.
He also wants to spend $5 million to improve warning systems where railroads cross roadways.
A $3.5 million center for training public safety personnel who may deal with oil train or pipeline incidents would be built at the National Guard’s Camp Ripley and a Minneapolis training center would get a $2.5 million expansion.
As usual, colleges and universities would receive a large part of the bonding plan. The Dayton proposal would give them $306 million in state money, mostly for fixing facilities and adding classrooms.
The Dayton administration says that about a third of the money would go to the Twin Cities, a third to Greater Minnesota and a third to statewide projects.

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