The Free Press
There was disappointment in Mankato when the statewide bonding bill headed for the House and Senate last week did not include funding for Mankato’s civic center.
But the bill as it stands now does include design funding for major projects at Minnesota State University and the St. Peter Regional Treatment Center. There are arguments that can be made regarding civic center funding but there can be no argument against funding improvements for the St. Peter center, which is in critical need.
As we reported last week, the Minnesota Sex Offender Program is projected to run out of beds as soon as 2014. The short-term fix proposed by the Department of Human Services would spend more than $100 million to expand and improve the Minnesota Security Hospital, located on the St. Peter facility’s upper campus, and free up space on the lower campus to add 200 more beds for the sex offender program.
Because of the urgency of the RTC project, DFL Rep. Terry Morrow thinks design funding this year could lead to construction funding as soon as next year.
“Considering the pressing demand for beds in 2014, you can’t wait for the 2014 bonding year,” he said. “So I do have hope that at least that project could move forward (in 2013).”
The new MSU building — which would receive $2.1 million in the bonding bill — would consolidate the university’s departments of nursing; dental hygiene; and speech, language and hearing and create more classroom space to help handle the 25 percent growth in nursing school enrollment at MSU over the past decade.
“This project will enable MSU to train the health care professionals that Minnesota will need for decades to come,” Morrow said.
But apparently Gov. Mark Dayton has some concern about the disparity of funding between the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system. The U of M receives $54 million while MnSCU gets $145 million. It’s not a matter of who gets more this year but rather where is the greatest need.
And for the Regional Treatment Center, the need is acute. Last year there were 65 serious injuries at the center, half of which resulted from patient assault. It recorded 310 patient injuries last year. And, according to a report by MPR, about one in five assaults were patient on patient.
Senate Majority Leader David Senjem said the state cannot afford to fund every request so the funding is competing with other projects throughout the state.
This smacks too closely to the argument regarding funding to remedy the deadliest road in the state, Highway 14 from New Ulm to Mankato. State officials argued it was competing against other projects.
This isn’t about competition; it’s about priorities in funding. For Highway 14 it was to reduce fatalities; for the RTC it’s to protect employees and patients.
Some fiscal conservatives will oppose the bill as too large. Other lawmakers — noting that the state budget forecast assumes a bill of about $775 million — see the $496 million bill as too small given the needs and the historically low interest rates available for borrowing.
William F. Buckley, considered one of the stalwarts of conservatism, said in 1955 that the role of central government (in peacetime) is “to protect its citizen’s lives, liberty and property.”
We need to keep the welfare of citizens at the top of mind when considering funding.