"As soon as this thing started to unfold after the session, I said, "This is the worst mistake I've made in my year and a half.' Not in the sense of overall effect on the state, but in terms of blundering into it," Dayton told members of the Rochester Post-Bulletin Editorial Board on Monday.
Dayton said he agreed to the competitive grant because he wanted to see other projects he supported get built. He had been pushing for a $776 million bonding bill. Legislative Republicans opposed borrowing that much money for construction projects and instead favored a $500 million bonding package.
Traditionally, lawmakers determine which construction projects should be funded. This time around, lawmakers backed the idea of a competitive grant with a set list of criteria administered by the Department of Employment and Economic Development. Supporters of this approach said it marked a shift away from earmarking to a merit-based system. Opponents argued that lawmakers were ceding their authority to the executive branch. DEED ending up receiving 90 applications totaling $288 million. Dayton announced he would be the one making the final call on who got the DEED money.
The city of Rochester wanted $25 million to help expand the Mayo Civic Center to add conference space. The project failed to score well in the rankings, coming in 11th overall and 6th in southern Minnesota. The biggest winner was St. Paul, which got $25 million for the St. Paul Saints Stadium.
Dayton also took a shot a Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester. He said he was surprised to read in the Post-Bulletin endorsement of Senjem's opponent, DFLer Judy Ohly, that Senjem told the newspaper that "everybody knew that the DEED block grant was directed toward the civic center. That's no secret."
The governor's reaction?
"I have a lot of respect for Dave Senjem. I think he is a very, very decent man, but I was just absolutely appalled for him to say that it was understood that Rochester's project was going to be part of that $47.5 million," he said.
He vowed he will never support this type of competitive grant process again.