By Mark Fischenich
Free Press Staff Writer
ST PETER — The Minnesota Legislature is scheduled to begin debating the large spending bills Monday that will make up the next two-year state budget. A couple of the key players in that process held something of a pep rally Friday in St. Peter in anticipation of the upcoming big budget week.
The House’s proposed $800 million construction legislation and a separate economic development bill were the focus of the meeting, which will be repeated in Duluth, Brainerd, St. Cloud, Rochester and Albert Lea in coming days.
St. Paul Rep. Tim Mahoney, the principal architect of the House jobs and economic development funding bill, said the DFL-controlled House is proposing a 34 percent increase in programs aimed at boosting assistance to job-creating businesses, training workers for high-demand jobs and other initiatives.
“When you put ’em all together and you put the bonding bill in there, we are doing everything possible to help the Minnesota economy,” Mahoney said.
Because of the productivity of Minnesota’s workforce and the state’s quality of life, Minnesota is thriving economically compared to neighboring states and doesn’t need to provide as many direct incentives to induce businesses to locate here, Mahoney said.
“We don’t have to do that,” he said. “What we have to do is be in the game.”
That means a $20 million appropriation for the Minnesota Investment fund, about six times what was previously put into the program that provides financial incentives to out-of-state companies looking to come here and local companies looking to expand.
Republicans, who lost control of both the House and Senate in the 2012 general election, have criticized DFL leaders — including Gov. Mark Dayton — for proposing tax increases to fund their spending bills.
Mahoney, who will lead off the week of budget debates in the House, said he’s confident his bill will have the votes to pass. Asked if he expected many Republican votes, Mahoney said: “I never expect, I only hope.”
Rep. Alice Hausman, chair of the Capital Investment Committee, needs to do more than hope for bipartisan support to get her bill passed. Because the bonding bill finances its construction work through borrowing, the state constitution requires 60 percent support in each body of the Legislature.
That means eight Republicans would have to join all of the majority Democrats in the House to reach the threshold and pass a bonding bill.
“That will be a harder challenge,” said Hausman, who anticipates her bill will be taken up after all other spending bills have been passed in the House.
The location of Friday’s meeting — the St. Peter Regional Treatment Center — was chosen because of Hausman’s bill. It provides $36.3 million for the first phase of a major renovation of the campus that will improve safety at the Minnesota Security Hospital and more thoroughly separate programs on the campus that serve predatory offenders from those that house other mentally ill people who are considered vulnerable adults.
Hausman said the Treatment Center project, which is expected to top $80 million when future phases are funded, is one of the five largest projects in the bill. Rep. Clark Johnson, DFL-North Mankato, said it’s also one of the most important because it will eliminate blind spots in buildings and other physical features that make it easier for staff and patients to be attacked.
Speaking to Treatment Center employees at the event, Johnson said it’s only right that the state make the facility as safe as possible for workers who deal with some of Minnesotans most dangerous residents.
“Providing you the safest facility we can is really a state obligation,” Johnson said.
Hausman highlighted the St. Peter project, but she mentioned numerous others in the region that were included in the bill such as the Mankato civic center expansion, the upgrade of the tracks of the Minnesota Valley Regional Railroad (which serves Sibley County), maintenance dollars for Minnesota State University and Fort Ridgely State Park, funding for repairs at the Rapidan Dam and a municipal sewer upgrade in Truman.