Gov. Mark Dayton gave the strongest indication yet that he intends to help the Mayo Clinic with its expansion plan in Rochester. He made the comments during a speech to an audience of Democrats in Oakdale today.
"How we get there? We have to negotiate," Dayton said. "But do we need to get there? I'm absolutely certain we do."
The Mayo Clinic is lobbying the Legislature for $585 million in taxpayer money to make improvements to Rochester. The Clinic says it needs the public improvements to support its plan to expand in the southeastern Minnesota community. Mayo Clinic officials have pledged to spend more than $3 billion over the next 20 years to expand their Rochester campus. They say they expect more than $2 billion to follow in private investments but say they need the public's help in building things such as roads, parks, transit and other improvements to support the expansion.
The Clinic's plan to finance those improvements would rely on a portion of future money raised from income, sales and corporate tax revenues in Rochester. The legislation would create an economic development authority to determine exactly how the funds are spent.
Several lawmakers expressed concern that the proposal is unprecedented and could lead to many other communities calling for a portion of their tax base be directed to infrastructure improvements.
Dayton said he isn't sure what the final plan will look like, but he said it's important that Mayo's vision of a Destination Medical Center be realized.
"I certainly don't want to see it happen in Arizona or Florida," Dayton said of Mayo's expansion.
DFL Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk says he supports the Mayo Clinic plan in concept but would like to see the city of Rochester and Olmsted County contribute more than $20 million to the plan. DFL House Speaker Paul Thissen says he isn't sure whether there's support for Mayo's plan but said something is likely to get done this year.
The House Jobs and Economic Development Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on the plan on Feb. 19.
Existing, democratically elected organizations have done just fine in the past. The legislation to create a new body to dole out the money is to make it easier to get public money into politcally-connected private hands. Politicians, many of them Democrats, are right to point that this has not been done this way before. And for good reason. It's a recipe for graft.