Senators Bakk and Simonson: Republicans jeopardize $800 million private investment in Duluth

Five short years ago, a Legislature under DFL control worked with Gov. Mark Dayton to approve more than $500 million in subsidies for a public-private partnership branded as the Rochester Destination Medical Center.

The Mayo Clinic’s 20-year, $5.6 billion plan to build Rochester into a global destination for health and wellness received public hearings and went through the Senate’s committee process. State lawmakers debated the plan on its merits and gave stakeholders an opportunity to participate. Gov. Dayton brandished his signature on the bill, and many of us at the Capitol cheered the historic accomplishment, including Sen. David Senjem, a Republican colleague of ours from Rochester who now chairs the Capital Investment Committee.

Both of us helped guide the Rochester Destination Medical Center legislation and voted in support of it because we recognized its potential to grow our state’s economy and expand our health care system.

Here we are, five short years later, and Republicans who control the Legislature just left Duluth’s version of the Destination Medical Center out in the cold this legislative session — along with all the jobs and economic activity it promises to create for northern Minnesota.

When Essentia Health last year proposed making an $800 million private investment in its facility — which would be the largest private investment in Duluth’s history — we expected Republicans to do northern Minnesota the courtesy of giving the plan a fair shot at the legislative process. We were wrong.

Both of us have made a point during our respective public service to steer clear of the partisanship that has gripped other lawmakers in recent years. We believe in doing the hard work of legislating: learning about the issues, and listening to the stakeholders involved. We would like to think that every legislator holds himself or herself to that high standard.

It is for that reason that we are so disappointed to be put in the position of calling attention to the partisan politics behind the Duluth medical exchange district plan this year.

This initiative, of vital importance to northern Minnesota, originated as a tax bill in the House of Representatives (where all tax-related legislation must originate). Republicans stripped it out of a final plan sent to Gov. Dayton. Sen. Senjem, the very same individual whose community received hundreds of millions in taxpayer subsidies in 2013 to build the Destination Medical Center in his hometown, joined Republican leaders and refused to include it in the bonding bill.
We still don’t have an answer as to why this happened.

When state lawmakers put capital investment bills together, it should be a nonpartisan effort that invests in all of Minnesota. Essentia wants to make an $800 million private investment in its community and in a region in dire need of better medical care for its population. If that’s not something legislators of all political stripes can get behind, after we made a far bigger investment in southern Minnesota five short years ago, then we declare our legislative process entirely broken and incapable of addressing the needs of all the people of Minnesota.

Republican legislators are ignoring the Northland at a time of need for expanded health care access and the benefits of private economic development. House Speaker Kurt Daudt and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka’s partisan political efforts have jeopardized this entire project.


This commentary, produced exclusively for the Duluth News Tribune, appeared in print on Friday, May 25.

Senator Tom Bakk
Tom Bakk is the Senate DFL Leader and represents District 3, which includes portions of Cook, Koochiching, Lake and St. Louis counties in the northeastern part of Minnesota.

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Erik Simonson represents District 7 in northeastern Minnesota.

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