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Park Rapids Armory redevelopment included in Senate bonding proposal

The last remaining major puzzle piece to finishing the 2014 Minnesota Legislature is set to be put in place.

Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, D-Plummer, Monday announced a proposal topping $1 billion to fund public works projects around the state. It came two weeks before the Legislature must adjourn for the year.

The state would borrow $846 million through selling bonds that would be repaid by general taxes. Some projects would be funded by bonds to be repaid by other sources. The Stumpf bill also would spend nearly $200 million in cash from a state budget surplus.

While the proposal matches total borrowing in a House plan, specific projects in the bills vary. The legislative bonding level falls a bit short of what Gov. Mark Dayton proposes.

Included in the proposal is $2.5 million for the Park Rapids Armory regional arts center.

The Park Rapids City Council passed a resolution approving a redevelopment plan for Armory Square earlier this spring. Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL – Clearwater, has been a proponent of the plan and said he would work to get it in the Senate bonding bill plan.

Stumpf, chairman of the committee that considers public works projects, said the state received about $4 billion in requests from local governments and state agencies for projects. Public facilities are aging, he said, and money is needed to repair them.

“Stuff doesn’t last forever,” Stumpf said.

State-run colleges and universities would get more than $250 million of the funds, which Stumpf said would help train workers. Some of the money would go to repair buildings; other funds would be spent on new facilities.

“Businesses all over the state were eager for higher-trained workers,” Stumpf said he learned while traveling the state.

Rural areas, in particular, need better-trained workers, he added, to bolster their economic growth.

Stumpf said he tried to focus on basic needs such as repairing buildings like the state Capitol, transportation, economic development and housing. But Republicans were critical of the bill, saying projects such as transportation and southwest Minnesota’s Lewis and Clark water system were shortchanged in proposals by the Democratic governor and legislative leaders.

Lewis and Clark, which has become the hot-button bonding topic, needs about $70 million to provide water to the Luverne and Worthington areas of southwestern Minnesota. None of the proposals provide that much. Senators’ suggestion is paying $13 million to keep the project going, while Dayton and the House want to spend $20 million.

Republicans were critical of funding projects such as a Minneapolis sculpture garden instead of Lewis and Clark.

“If you want to do things like extend water to the parched area of the state ... shouldn’t we be able to start with those critical needs first?” Rep. Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, asked.

Stumpf said that a bonding bill needs to contain a variety of projects.

“It is easy to point to a project and say, ‘Don’t fund this one, but fund the one I want,’” Stumpf said.

When it comes to projects such as the sculpture garden, he admitted, “many people probably think of it more as a frill than a need.”

Southwestern Minnesota officials say their growth is hampered by lack of a good water system.

Three-fifths of the House and Senate must approve of a bonding bill, which means some Republicans will need to join Democrats who control the Legislature if a bonding bill is to pass. The cash spending, which will be in a separate bill, only needs a simple majority.

Stumpf said he expects the House and Senate to pass different bills, forcing negotiators to work out differences in a conference committee.

He said legislative leaders want to adjourn for the year by the end of the week, but he said that work may not be done by then.