With bonding bill failure, status of Bemidji-area projects up in the air
BEMIDJI—Two multimillion-dollar projects planned for Bemidji went down with the state's bonding bill as legislators quarreled Sunday over funding for transportation and public works.
Monday's deadline came and went without an agreement on those fronts, putting on hold plans to replace Northern Dental Access Center and BSU's Hagg-Sauer Hall—along with a multitude of other projects planned across the state.
Both local projects had received support from Gov. Mark Dayton and the DFL-controlled Senate.
"It's a devastating blow," said Jeanne Edevold Larson, executive director at Northern Dental. "As far as we knew last night (Sunday), we were in the bonding bill and everyone was agreeing to it. We've been heavily focused on this for two years, and losing it at the stroke of midnight is devastating."
Sen. Tom Saxhaug, DFL-Grand Rapids, and Rep. Dave Hancock, R-Bemidji, led Northern's campaign in their respective houses, asking for $6 million in state money. The project would cost $9 million all things considered: furnishings, dental equipment, everything.
Edevold Larson said Northern Dental has raised about half of its $3 million burden for the project. But state lawmakers Sunday couldn't uphold their end of the deal. The Republican-controlled House passed a transportation and public works measure shortly before midnight, and when the Senate tried to amend the document, talks broke down and the legislative session ran out.
"It's definitely a blow, but we're a very healthy organization serving tens of thousands of people," Edevold Larson said. She said the dental center, which serves many low-income families here, would like a bigger, nicer building to keep up with an expanding client list.
"We've been growing," she said. In the current building, "we can't grow anymore."
Unless Dayton calls a special session to give the Legislature one more crack at the bonding bill, Northern Dental and the BSU project likely won't be funded until 2018, when the state sells more of its bonds. That session would also be no guarantee.
BSU officials could not be reached Monday to discuss the status of the Hagg-Sauer Hall project. The university wants to replace the 45-year-old building, which is susceptible to water intrusion, and doesn't fully accommodate students with disabilities. It would cost about $18 million.
Red Lake left out, too
Dissent among the Legislature also neglected two projects on the Red Lake Indian Reservation: the construction of a $17 million social services building, and $14 million in upgrades to Red Lake Elementary School and Early Childhood Center.
The projects gained support from DFLers and were included in their bonding proposal released a few weeks ago. Republicans questioned whether the projects should be a priority, especially the schools, because communities on state land pay for such work with tax dollars.
Tribal officials were unavailable for comment.
The Bemidji and Red Lake projects aren't dead for 2016—only mostly so.
Dayton hasn't decided yet, but he could order a special session pulling lawmakers back to St. Paul to try again.