The Free Press, Mankato, MN

May 17, 2012

Senjem blames Mankato lobbyist for civic center bonding failure

By Tim Krohn
Free Press Staff Writer

— Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem told a newspaper he blames a lobbying firm for the failure to get bonding money for outstate civic centers in Rochester and St. Cloud — saying the firm was lobbying for Mankato and began “creating all kinds of hoopla and political difficulty.”

Senjem, a Rochester Republican, also told a group of Rochester business leaders that $47.5 million in grant money for economic development put in the bonding bill is geared toward the Mayo Civic Center expansion.

Senjem’s comments are in a story reported Thursday by the Rochester Post Bulletin.

Rochester, St. Cloud and Mankato were all seeking bonding money for civic center expansions and renovations. But in the Senate version of the bonding bill, which Senjem helped craft, Mankato was not included.

In the final bonding bill passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Mark Dayton, none of the three civic center projects received funding.

Senjem blamed Rochester’s lobbyist, according to the Post Bulletin. He said the strategy had been to include the Mayo Civic Center in the bonding bill because the design work already had been done and to include the St. Cloud Civic Center because that community had put money toward the project.

But he said the plan was to leave out the Mankato civic center because no design work had been done.

Senjem said Rochester’s lobbyist, Flaherty & Hood of St. Paul, who also lobbies for Mankato, began “creating all kinds of hoopla and political difficulty,” according to the newspaper.

“I knew from that moment Mayo Civic Center was not going to end up in any bonding bill because we might have been able to do two (civic centers), but we weren’t going to do three in this bill.”

While no specific funding was included for civic centers, the bonding bill did provide $47.5 million in grant money for economic development, to be distributed by the state Department of Employment and Economic Development.

According to the Post Bulletin, Senjem told the Rochester business leaders that the grant money is geared toward Rochester.

“I don’t know if you could have written criteria that more closely identifies with Mayo Civic Center.” He said if Rochester doesn’t get the grant money, “It’s purely politics.”

Mankato City Manager Pat Hentges said he believes Mankato has an equal chance of getting funding through DEED.

“I don’t consider us any further behind or further ahead than any of the others.”

The problem will be is that there is about $86 million being sought by St. Cloud, Rochester, Mankato and the St. Paul Saints (for a new stadium) and there’s $47.5 million available in the grant program from DEED. And some other projects are likely to seek some of the funds.

While all of the cities seeking money want the full amount they are requesting, Hentges said it’s likely most or all of them could move ahead with their civic center projects in phases if they received partial funding.

Hentges said Mankato is ready to send out bids and begin construction this summer if it gets funding.

As for Senjem’s comments blaming the lobbying firm, Hentges said the Legislature and governor always seemed to be clear in their approach.

“My only response is it was pretty clear to us in speaking to the leadership and minority leadership and the governor that it was going to be all three civic centers or none.”

Sen. Kathy Sheran, DFL-Mankato, said Senjem’s message in Rochester shows he did what he could to help write the legislation for distributing the DEED money to favor Rochester.

“To the best of his abilities he would write the principles into law to direct the money to Rochester,” Sheran said. “But as I read the law, it would require it fund the Mankato civic center at least on an equal level with the others.”