The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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February 23, 2014

Bonding bill may be boon to region

Civic center facing seventh at-bat

MANKATO — With the state budget more than balanced and a short session planned, the Legislature’s biggest task is the massive public works bill it calls bonding.

“For me, it’s the most important bill and work of the session,” Rep. Kathy Brynaert, DFL-Mankato, said of the city of Mankato’s $14.5 million request to expand the Verizon Wireless Center. This is the city’s seventh attempt to get money for its civic center.

The civic center continues to have an influential advocate in the state House in Alice Hausman, a St. Paul Democrat and chair of the bonding committee.

“I’ve been a strong and consistent supporter and I hope that this is finally, finally the year,” Hausman said.

And most area Republicans appear to support the civic center. That support is important considering that bonding bills require a three-fifths majority.

Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, said the three civic centers in the bill — Rochester and St. Cloud have their hands out, too — should be approved. Once that happens, the state should take another look at whether bonding should support civic centers, he said.

Rep. Kelby Woodard, a Republican who lives in Belle Plaine but represents much of Le Sueur County, said there’s a good argument for the Mankato civic center. In a bill sized at $850 million, there should be room for it, he said.

For Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, the civic center is lower on the list, behind higher education improvements, for example. His biggest priority is that the bonding bill be kept in the $800 million range.

That said, “I’ve voted for bonding bills in the past and if the final package is one that I think is reasonable I’ll vote for it.”

Brynaert said Republicans’ ambivalence toward projects like this one is a new development; in the past there was plenty of room in the bonding bill for cities to build museums and art centers.

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