Skip to Content

Support MinnPost

Minnesota Senate’s much-heftier bonding bill still has glaring omissions

Minnesota Capitol dome scaffolding

CC/Flickr/Fibonacci Blue

Capitol renovations received less generous consideration in the Senate version than in the House bonding bill.

The Senate's public works proposal this morning revealed some glaring absences.

The bonding measure [PDF] and accompanying spreadsheet [PDF] — proposed by the Capital and Investment Committee — would finance $561 million in projects across the state, with a hefty $127 million chunk going to Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU).

Majority Leader David Senjem, who chairs the committee, noted that legislators had to choose from among $2.6 billion in projects.

"We're in the middle," he said, noting that the Gov. Mark Dayton's project list totaled $775 million and the House's plan a stripped-down $280 million.

DFLers seemed relieved that the bill had some meat on its bones.

"Most of the priorities are good," said Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, who ultimately moved to recommend passage and move the bill to its next stop, the Finance Committee. 

Charles Wiger, DFL-Maplewoood, congratulated Senjem and his staffers for "reaching out" across the aisle and visiting project sites all over the state.

And, although he would have wanted the bill to be bigger, said David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, "you can't accuse [it] of sending all the money north." 

But legislators and others expressed disappointment about the omission of various projects.

The biggest, perhaps, was the renovation of the State Capitol itself. While the House has allocated $220 million for the project, the Senate bill offered up only $25 million for "preservation and repair." Architects have said they need $62 million this summer to continue work on the project.

Two popular Twin Cities projects — renovation of Nicollet Mall for Minneapolis, the city's No. 1 priority, and a regional baseball park for St. Paul — got zip.

Also out was money for work on the Southwest Corridor light rail project that would connect the Minneapolis hub to booming western suburbs.

Mankato also got short shrift on its long-sought civic center, while the Senate bill did fund civic centers projects in Rochester and St. Cloud.

"We've been a bride left at the altar since 2006," said the Mankato project director who asked the committee to reconsider. Senjem refused.

Other "disappointments": No provision for the remodeling of St. Peter Hospital, which houses the mentally ill and some sex offenders; nothing for the Oliver Kelley farm, a historic site near Elk River, and nothing to fix the Billesby Dam in Dakota County, a top priority on the DNR's most wanted list.

Senjem noted that the House had allocated $3 million for the dam, so that when a conference committee got together, it had some basis for discussion.

Get MinnPost's top stories in your inbox

Related Tags:

About the Author:

Comments (6)

Rochester Saints?

Maybe if the Saints move Rochester (and Majority Leader Senjem's district) the bonding bill would include funding for a stadium.

"Ladies and gentleman, here's your Rochester Mayos, brought to you by Hellman's!"

Raze the capitol

If renovation will cost $281 million, how much will it cost to raze the capitol and replace it with a modern building? Capitol buildings can’t help but be products of their times. We’re no longer living in the last gasp of the Victorian Age, and it’s been more than 100 years since the capitol building opened.

I taught history for decades, and have worked on historic preservation, so I’m embarrassed to admit that I'm even having these thoughts… I think Minnesota’s capitol building is ugly, as well as being inefficient in a number of ways that mere renovations won’t really fix. Yes, I know the building was designed by Cass Gilbert, the same architect who designed the SCOTUS and several other notable buildings. What’s in St. Paul is not his best work.

For the kind of money that will apparently be necessary to bring the building up to a standard that’s at least not grotesquely inefficient, we ought to be able to design and build a much more attractive, much more usable, and much more citizen-friendly building, one that incorporates necessary security features, makes provisions for technology that the current structure likely cannot, and that will cost a small fraction of the current building to operate during the course of a legislative session.

An awful lot of Minnesotans are apparently willing to spend quite a bit of state money on a gigantic sports emporium that will – like the capitol – see only part-time use. Save the quadriga (the gold-plated horses), as much of the artwork as possible, and some other symbolic bits of the building and replace the structure with something that’s both more attractive and more functional.

There, that should get a discussion started…

You couldn't be more wrong, Ray

It is hard to believe your comment is serious. I have personally seen 35 or 40 of America's state capitol buildings and I consider Minnesota's to be the most beautiful by a long shot. Whenever I show it to an out of state visitor a common reaction is for them to say they wish their state capitol looked as good as ours. You may know history but I think that may be the extant of your expertise.

Ray's right

There's no reason legislative business couldn't be conducted entirely online from the lawmakers' homes, including voting. Think of the money we'd save on per diem alone.

After razing the capital, that would leave that space for the Saint Paul city council to build more condos that generate much-needed property tax revenue, perhaps enough to stop raising mine.

Property taxes

Your taxes went up because of the conservatives who demand tax breaks. Mine went up 22% over the past year. That is the penalty Republicans want to extract from the metro. Time to put city taxes in place on commuters who use OUR resources we pay for.

Only semi-serious

My comment was about 40 percent serious.

I’ve seen a few state capitol buildings, myself. Most of them, as I said, are a product of their times – meaning they’re inefficient and inflexible, both in terms of energy usage and use by human beings for a variety of purposes. Offices are often cramped, as are the legislative chambers, and adapting to new technology is almost always problematic. Spaces dedicated to purposes that no longer are relevant are usually difficult to repurpose effectively, so while some parts of the building are overcrowded, other parts are used rarely, or never, and their space essentially wasted. In most states, government functions have grown over the past century to the point where much, if not most, of what the state government does is being run from office space outside the capitol building anyway.

I’m sure I’m in a (very small) minority when it comes to aesthetic judgments about state capitol buildings. I don’t share the “dome fetish” that characterizes so many, largely trying to emulate the capitol building in Washington, D.C. (or, for the more theologically inclined, St. Peter’s in Rome), whether that particular state needed to do so or not. Of the places I’ve lived, I’d put Minnesota’s capitol building in the middle, more or less. I like it better than the dull gray eminence of the Missouri capitol building in Jefferson City, but not as well as the Colorado capitol building in Denver. All three, however, share the same basic architectural elements, including a dome, and all three are inefficient in basically the same ways.

I do think spending 281 million taxpayer dollars is rather more than a trivial expense, and if we’re going to put that kind of money into an old structure that’s used less than half the year by the legislature, the rationale for the expense, and the details of what the public is getting for its money, ought to be looked at pretty closely. Legislators will naturally focus on things that make their work more comfortable, and the tendency is to make their work space more luxurious than that of the average worker bee in a corporate setting. It’s a tendency I think we ought to resist.

And, truth be told, I wouldn’t mind if we built a new capitol building, without a dome, that was more efficient and practical for the people who use it as part of their job. I don’t expect the capitol building to be torn down any time soon, but if that happened, there are numerous examples in Europe and elsewhere of quite attractive, dynamic government buildings that can be (and are) used for a variety of public purposes beyond the purely legislative, have better acoustics, energy efficiency, use of space, etc. For $281 million, we could probably get a structure that was more than minimally acceptable.