Bonding bill seeks more than $1.5B in state infrastructure projects

Governor Dayton wants to borrow more than $1.5 billion for construction projects around the state, and a good chunk of those are at the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State campuses.

Their case is simple: they have a lot of aging buildings that need repair and investments in these higher education assets are good for the state’s future workforce and economy.

Budget Commissioner Myron Frans admits the borrowing request is large, but they believe it would create nearly 23,000 jobs.

A huge chuck of the borrowing—more than half a billion—would support building maintenance and renovations at the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State campus.

At Normandale Community College, $10 million would help renovate the college services building for more classroom space.

At the U of M’s Twin Cities campus, $24 million would renovate the historic Pillsbury Hall. Built in 1887, the restoration would replace obsolete science facilities.

"On our Twin Cities campus 50 percent of our buildings are 50 years old or older," said University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler.

Last year’s Republican Legislature approved $255 million in the bonding bill for roads and bridges. The governor’s borrowing plan this year has relatively little for transportation, except for one well-known bridge in Minneapolis. The Stone Arch Bridge would get $10 million needed for inspection, design and restoration of the deteriorating structure.
“We do believe that this bonding project is sustainable, given the people in Minnesota available to fund these projects and to work on these projects. So we’re very optimistic that this is the right bill at the right time,” Frans said.

It’s a big borrowing plan, and the chair of the House Capitol Investment Committee says it will get a fair look.

“The demand for a large bill is out there, but responsibly, we have to be careful what we do. We have ceiling of what we can spend and we want to come under that by probably quite a bit,” Chair Dean Urdall said.

One of the big questions in all of this is the February budget forecast. Once those final numbers are out, in terms of a state surplus or deficit, lawmakers will have a better idea of how much they can borrow for construction projects.