Request is for $10M, but only $1.13M included in House's first bonding bill.
The University of Minnesota Crookston's push to get $10 million included in the Minnesota Legislature's capital investment "bonding" bill this year took an unfortunate and somewhat unexpected turn Tuesday when the Minnesota House released its initial bill and it contained only $1.13 million for the project.
State Rep. Alice Hausman, a St. Paul DFLer and the chair of the House Capital Investment Committee, said from the get-go when she introduced the bill Tuesday that it's inadequate. She told the Times that she initially introduced a $1.24 billion bill that fully funded higher education projects, including the $10 million requested for the UMC Wellness Center.
But Hausman said it's about getting votes, and she said she was subsequently directed by House Speaker Paul Thissen to write a bill for $850 million that, she stated in an email to the Times, "sticks to an agreement that apparently the four leaders agreed to last year." So, in a different twist, Hausman on Tuesday introduced a bill that funds $850 million in projects through general obligation bonds, and a separate bill that would pay cash, from the state's surplus, for $125 million in projects.
So what's with the $1.13 million for the Wellness Center? Hausman said it's her understanding that the dollar amount represents the figure included in last year's bonding bill proposal that sought to fund pre-design and design work for the facility. "That is often how these projects are phased," she explained.
District 1B State Rep. Deb Kiel, a Crookston Republican, said a Capital Investment Committee hearing is taking place today, Wednesday, and she will request that $10 million for the Wellness Center be included in the bill. She also said she'll push for increased flood mitigation funding that would complete projects in 10 locations.
A 3/5 majority vote is needed to pass a bonding bill. "So these really need to be firm votes," Hausman told the Times.
UMC Director of Communications Andrew Svec told the Times Tuesday that the reduced funding for the Wellness Center in the House bill is "a bit surprising," especially considering the support the project has received in recent months from legislators who have visited UMC to tour the current facilities and get the details of the proposal. "That said, we know that during a bonding year there is a constant process of discussion and readjustment of projects as the Senate, House, and Governor work out what will be funded in the final bill," Svec stated via email. "We are eager to see what the Senate will propose as well. Chancellor (Fred) Wood and the rest of the campus community will continue to advocate for our much-needed Wellness Center to be funded at the full $10M mark. Our hope is that members of the community of Crookston will also see the value and importance the Wellness Center would have to our campus and community and be moved to voice their support to legislators as well."
Gov. Mark Dayton's bonding bill includes the $10 million for the Wellness Center, and District 1 State Sen. LeRoy Stumpf (DFL-Plummer) has said he'll push for $10 million to be included in the Senate's bonding bill. The project's total cost is approximately $15 million, with the $5 million gap to be filled by fund-raising, student fees and potential U of M system-level support.
Hausman said advancing bonding bills is never easy and is often downright painful. Another U of M project that fell victim to the cutting process was a microbial research building to be constructed on the St. Paul campus, located within her legislative district. "I cut the building completely out of the bill, zero funding," Hausman said.
She said raising the general obligation bond target in the bill would "make very little difference in the debt service number, but we could go forward on more of these projects while interest rates and bids are still low." If the target is eventually raised and there's a "bit more flexiblity" in the bill, Hausman told the Times that she would restore the $10 million for the UMC Wellness Center before she restores the funding for the microbial research building.