The Free Press, Mankato, MN

January 15, 2014

Civic center, treatment center make bonding list

Gov. Dayton releases 2014 capital project recommendations

The Mankato Free Press

---- — The governor's list for state-funded construction project brought good news to the city of Mankato and staff at St. Peter's Regional Treatment Center. But its exclusion of a clinical sciences building at Minnesota State University is a stumbling block for the school's effort.

The governor's proposed list, weighing in at $986 million, includes $14.5 million for the Mankato Verizon Wireless Center expansion and $64 million at the treatment center.

In a phone interview, Dayton said this is the fourth time he's included the Mankato civic center in his bonding bill (it’s the eighth try overall). It hasn't passed until now "for reasons that really astound me."

He said the project has an "obvious benefit" to the city, and noted its wide support in and around Mankato, but said some Republicans have an ideological opposition. Because a bonding bill requires a three-fifths majority to pass, it needs the support of at least eight Republicans in the House and four in the Senate.

Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, supports the Mankato civic center as an issue of fairness.

“I don’t disagree with the Republican ideology on civic centers. I think the problem is that once we’ve got it started we have to be fair,” he said.

Still, he doesn’t like the idea of “picking winners and losers” and encouraging cities to compete against each other.

“I think once we get these last civic centers taken care of in these regional centers, we should probably rethink this whole process,” Cornish said.

Because Dayton’s bill is sized at $986 million, higher than some Republicans want, there is a risk that the civic centers be removed to lower the total and get more votes.

Rep. Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, the lead Republican on the bonding committee, told The Associated Press that the governor’s plan was costly and misguided.

But Mankato City Manager Pat Hentges said it will be difficult to excise the civic centers from the bill. There are other locally significant projects in the Twin Cities, too, so the civic centers aren’t unique in that respect.

The clinical sciences building was ranked ninth in the state's internal project rankings, Dayton noted. He also suggested the project's size worked against it.

The university isn’t giving up, though.

In a news release, MSU President Richard Davenport said he’d seek the help of local legislators and the medical community.

“It will require hard work to get those bills through conference committees to the governor, but we are very hopeful that if both the House and Senate recommend those bills, that the governor will add it to his list of recommendations," he wrote.

Dayton was willing to set aside those internal rankings for another higher-education project, though.

He included a $7.4 million request from South Central College to consolidate its agricultural, engineering and health care programs in its North Mankato campus.

Dayton said he wanted to prioritize science and technology improvements because he’s heard so much about jobs being unfilled for lack of skilled applicants.

The $64 million Regional Treatment Center request includes $56 million to remodel and add to the Minnesota Security Hospital, home to 375 mentally ill and dangerous residents. It also includes about $7 million to add to the space-crunched Minnesota Sex Offender Program.

The hospital remodel will, among other improvements, widen hallways and improve visibility, which should reduce assaults on staff.

“I can’t think of anything in the bonding bill that’s more pressing,” Union President Chuck Carlson said.