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Bonding bill deposits gifts around the state

ST. PAUL -- It's Christmas in July for Minnesota colleges and other state-owned facilities.

Minnesota legislators early Wednesday approved $498 million worth of public works projects such as college building renovations, flood-fighting projects and developing the state's newest park.

"It is about 75 percent shovel ready," Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker, said. "It will put a lot of Minnesotans to work."

It is something of a surprise gift to many of the recipients, who have lobbied for the projects but saw the regular legislative session end on May 23 with no public works bill.

When Gov. Mark Dayton broke a budget impasse last week, one of his requirements was to pass a public works bill. Republicans who control the Legislature agreed and Howes pulled out a bill he already had ready and tweaked it to get enough Democrat votes to pass.

The House approved the measure 112-17 and the Senate 53-11. House debate took less than 10 minutes on a bill that often takes hours to discuss.

"It is a very, very sound investment in Minnesota," Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, said.

"It is basically a fix-up bill," he said, because so many of its projects are repairing and renovating state-owned facilities.

Public works projects in the bill will be funded by the state selling bonds.

Democrats killed a bonding bill late in the regular legislative session because it had too few projects. They were much happier with the one passed during the Tuesday and Wednesday special session.

The Minnesota State Colleges and University system gets the most out of the bill, $98 million of state money. The University of Minnesota receives $89 million.

Most college and university spending will be for renovating buildings, although the university's Twin Cities campus also gets a new physics and nanotechnology center in the deal.

Langseth said fixing buildings like on college campuses does not get a lot of attention, but is a good way to spend state money.

Besides colleges, many other state facilities are due to renovations under the bill.

The measure also would spend $51 million to build flood-prevention measures across the state. Langseth said he sought $55 million, but $51 million will go far.

Previous bonding bills proved funding flood projects pays off, Langseth said. "We have got it all back and then some based on the fact that we have prevented some very big disasters."

Much of the money is to be spent in Langseth's Red River Valley area. He said he ran for re-election a final time last year to get the flood-prevention money.

Among other projects is $4 million to begin repairs on the state Capitol

"We are very fond of this Capitol," Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, said, and the bill funds exterior repairs so the state may remove scaffolding now in place to protect people from falling marble.

Also in the bonding bill is:

-- $8 million to develop Lake Vermilion State Park, a new northeastern Minnesota park.

-- $16 million for a new Mississippi River dam at Coon Rapids to stop the spread of destructive Asian carp through northern Minnesota waters.

-- $20 million to improve conservation.

-- $33 million for local bridge repairs and replacements .

-- $10 million for local road improvements.

-- $7 million to improve the Minnesota Sex Offender Program St. Peter treatment facility.