Gov. Dayton

Gov. Mark Dayton bonding proposal includes $167 million to fund additional water infrastructure projects — mostly renovations or new construction of sewer and drinking water systems.

Gov. Mark Dayton wants lawmakers to sign off on $1.5 billion in public works bonding projects this legislative session.

Dayton introduced a bonding proposal Wednesday, calling on lawmakers to pass a bonding bill early in the session, though it's unclear whether a Republican-controlled Legislature supports any sort of bonding legislation this year.

"The cost of not doing these projects is greater than the cost of doing them," Dayton said during a press conference call.

Major south-central Minnesota projects from last year are included in Dayton's proposal, which he said was a combination of projects he championed in 2016 and projects lawmakers brought up during last year's session.

The governor proposes giving $4.4 million to Minnesota State University and $6.4 million to South Central College for renovation projects. That's less money than he previously recommended in 2016 — MSU requested $6.5 million while SCC asked for $8.6 million.

Dayton also reiterated his support for the Minnesota Security Hospital's $70.3 million request to complete the final stage of renovations and improvements to its campus at the St. Peter Regional Treatment Center.

"This is beginning to catch up to what the needs are there," he said.

The governor once again included $14.5 million for a transition program building at the Minnesota Sex Offender Program in St. Peter, and $12.4 million for similar MSOP transition efforts throughout the state.

Though Dayton is pushing for a bonding bill, lawmakers may not be so keen to agree with him. A $1 billion bonding proposal was at the center of at-times ugly special session negotiations last year between Dayton and GOP leaders, many of whom say their caucus is reluctant to support a large amount of bonding.

Dayton and state officials tried to downplay budgetary concerns Wednesday morning, saying the bill's price tag is well within Minnesota's borrowing guidelines.

"To those who say this is too much spending, I say it's frankly too little relative to the needs," Dayton said. "It's about right in terms of what our capacity is."

State officials also say Dayton's proposal would provide for up to 23,000 jobs over the next two years.

Still, Republicans have remained noncommittal toward a bonding bill, which is normally done during even-numbered years. House Speaker Kurt Daudt said last month it was unlikely representatives would take up a bonding bill in 2017, but GOP leaders later said it would be up to the House and Senate GOP caucuses.

"I think it might happen, but I don't think it'll be a top priority," said Sen. Rich Draheim, R-Madison Lake. "Right now, everybody's focused on health care because it's affecting so many more people."

Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, has a slightly more positive outlook on bonding legislation. He believes if Dayton uses bonding as a political tool this session by tying it to other legislation, the governor could force lawmakers to pass some sort of bonding bill.

"If he wants a bonding bill that bad, I imagine he'll get one," Cornish said. "But he's not going to get one that big."

DFL lawmakers agree it's unlikely the House and Senate will pass a bonding bill as large as Dayton's request. Yet Rep. Clark Johnson, DFL-North Mankato, thinks passing a bonding bill is a necessary step to accomplishing larger goals this session.

"If we don't, I think it's an anchor around our ankle," he said. "It will hover and it will slow down our progress in this year's work."

The bill also includes $98,000 in public infrastructure funding for Madelia to help offset reconstruction costs after a fire destroyed several downtown businesses last February.

Other projects include $3.4 million for Highway 4 reconstruction in St. James, $1.2 million for repairs to the Sakatah Trail in Le Sueur County, and $400,000 for a Department of Natural Resources fish hatchery in Waterville.

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