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Don Davis, Forum News Service, Published February 25 2014

Dayton considers adding cash to public works bill

ST. PAUL – Using Minnesota’s budget surplus to expand the number of public works projects, ranging from repairing the Capitol to updating college buildings, is being considered, Gov. Mark Dayton said Tuesday as the Legislature began its 2014 session.

Dayton said he received $3 billion in requests for public works projects, normally funded by the state borrowing money by selling bonds. He proposed a nearly $1 billion bonding list, but legislative leaders last week agreed that $840 million is more likely to pass.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, suggested at a Forum News Service-sponsored forum that items such as a state Capitol renovation project and repairing state highways could be funded by cash from what last December was declared a $1 billion budget surplus.

On Tuesday, Dayton said adding to public works funding is one of three ways he could propose using $400 million in surplus money. The other $600 million would go to tax cuts, which in state bookkeeping is figured as spending.

The other two options Dayton gave for the money are adding to the state budget reserves and putting cash into a Corridors of Progress program to help the state transportation system.

Dayton said, he will wait until after Friday’s update about the state budget before deciding how he would use the surplus.

A surplus following budget deficits like Minnesota has experienced is like giving a starving man a hot dog, Dayton said, and then putting a steak on a plate in front of him. “All of a sudden he is not interested in the hot dog.”

But, the governor said, Minnesota groups need to understand the state cannot increase ongoing spending to the extent some would like, even with a surplus.

Dayton spoke to reporters from his official state residence via telephone because a recent hip surgery left him in a body cast and unable to work at the Capitol.

“I would like to get back there,” Dayton said. “My recovery is going well. I have no pain in my hip.”

The governor said he is busy meeting with legislative leaders and officials of his administration while he is stuck at home.

He said he will return “in a couple of weeks” for tests at Mayo Clinic in Rochester and expects to find then how much longer he will be homebound.

He hopes soon after that “I can get some pants on and go to the Capitol.”