The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

December 10, 2012

Dayton breathes new life into civic center funding

Gov. Mark Dayton once again on Monday strongly endorsed having the state pay nearly half of Mankato’s proposed $31 million civic center expansion and upgrade, a project repeatedly rejected by a previous governor and legislatures.

Dayton initially said he would support the Mankato funding — and dollars for similar projects in Rochester and St. Cloud — during the 2013 legislative session, which begins next month. Moments later, though, Dayton suggested the civic center projects might have to wait until 2014 if there’s bad news in a key state revenue forecast in late February or early March.

“We’ll keep trying until we get ’em,” Dayton said of the three civic center projects. “Or until I leave — one or the other.”

The strong support of the first-term Democrat is a marked contrast to Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who blocked previous attempts to include the Mankato project in state bonding bills — sometimes while agreeing to funding for arenas and civic centers elsewhere in the state.

Dayton’s strong support for the civic centers wasn’t enough during his first two years in office when Republicans controlled the House and Senate. Earlier this year, Republican lawmakers essentially washed their hands of the traditional legislative task of deciding which local projects to finance through the sale of bonds.

Instead, they set aside $47.5 million in a grant fund and assigned the commissioner of the Department of Employment and Economic Development to choose between applicants from around the state. Ninety applications for nearly $300 million were received by DEED, and none of the three civic center projects — which alone totaled $49.5 million in requests — made the cut.

In a meeting organized by Forum Communications between state political reporters and state government’s top leaders, Dayton said he would likely propose a large bonding bill in the coming year. Traditionally, odd-numbered years are primarily dedicated to negotiating the state’s next two-year state budget, with the bonding bill worked out the following year.

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