GOP calls Senate office building ‘boondoggle’; House DFL and Dayton remain cautious

State of Minnesota
A rendering depicting the latest design for the new Senate office building near the Capitol complex.

Who would have guessed the star of the 2014 Minnesota legislative session would be an office building? 

The proposed $90 million Senate office building and parking ramp was at the crux of political debate last week, as Gov. Mark Dayton accused Senate DFL leadership of holding up a time-sensitive package of tax cuts to move the stalled project forward.

The building was back at the center of attention at the Capitol Monday as Republicans took a whack at the project. Calling it a “boondoggle,” Republicans have introduced a bill that would repeal enabling language in last year’s tax bill that would allow the office project to go forward. 

“It was passed without a hearing, and it was also passed without a budget,” Rep. Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, told reporters at a Capitol news conference. “It’s also unpopular … the only thing more unpopular than the tax increases passed last year is this building.”

The language passed last year allows the state to enter into a lease-to-purchase agreement to pay for the buliding. Dean added that Republicans believe the project is unconstitutional. Lawmakers have a single-subject rule for major bills, meaning a building shouldn’t be approved in a proposal dealing with taxes, he said.

A Ramsey County judge, however, recently tossed out a lawsuit from former GOP Rep. Jim Knoblach trying to block the project on that point, but Knoblach has appealed the ruling to the Minnesota Supreme Court.

Republicans, though, didn’t offer up a Plan B for senators, who will be displaced from their Capitol offices after the 2015 session as part of the building’s massive restoration project. They suggested senators find offices in another building somewhere on the Capitol grounds, but had no specific suggestions. 

It’s certain the building will stay in the Capitol spotlight for some time. The project awaits final approval in the House Rules Committee. House DFL leaders says they’ve asked the Department of Administration to look into ways to cut back on the cost of the office project and are awaiting word before moving forward.

The project has become a political rallying point for Republicans, who have readily attacked the building as wasteful spending and labeled early designs extravagant. Dayton and House Democrats, who are on the ballot this fall, have been careful to not fully endorse the project in its current form. Senate Democrats aren’t up for re-election until 2016.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk says the new building should have been approved by now. 

“The new building, under the construction schedule, was supposed to be in the ground on March 1. I think we are already incurring cost overruns on both the new building and on the Capitol at this point,” he said. “It’s of urgent concern to the Senate.”

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Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by Adam Miller on 03/24/2014 - 04:58 pm.

    This is really crazy

    They need a new building and there is space available to build it and yet doing so is somehow controversial. We Minnesotans are strange people.

  2. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 03/24/2014 - 06:11 pm.

    Suddenly, I’m a Republican (again)

    “Boondoggle” seems an appropriate term to describe the proposed Senate Office Building. Senators and their staffs need office space, but if the building being proposed doesn’t have enough space for everyone, and some portion of the Senate will have offices elsewhere, then there’s no reason not to just seek and find some available office space in St. Paul for rent until the Capitol renovation is complete.

    If new Senate offices are genuinely necessary, and they may be, I’d even be OK with a new Senate Office Building – if it had been debated by the full assembly, and more importantly, if it provided the needed office space for the entire Senate. Everything I’ve read about the design so far suggests that it will not have enough space for all Senators and their staffs, so even if it’s built, it will be a permanent, ongoing source of contention between and among Senators, between the Senate and the House, and between the Senate and the Governor.

    Unless/until the design A) eliminates the extreme energy inefficiency of glass walls; and B) includes office space for all the Senators, it easily qualifies for the title “Boondoggle,” and will earn every bit of ridicule that comes its way. Either expand the project to include all Senators, or kill it outright and start over.

  3. Submitted by Matt Brillhart on 03/25/2014 - 08:30 am.

    No $14MM parking ramp next to LRT Station!

    I don’t think anyone at the Capitol knows it, but there are a bunch of progressive urbanists who are opposed to the Senate Office Building, it’s not just Republicans. Hidden(not really) in the proposal is a $14MM parking ramp, which would be built right next to the brand new LRT station, sapping the development/investment potential right out of the area. We just made a billion dollar investment in the Green Line, and this proposed parking ramp is basically going to kill the life around one of the stations, in a neighborhood that critically needs investment and redevelopment.

    On the topic of the LRT line, given the high office vacancy rate in Downtown St. Paul, we should shift some staffers and state workers to downtown offices, which are now connected to the Capitol area by light rail. This would free up space near the Capitol for our Senators. We need to get creative about this.

    And yes, long term, we need to seriously consider shrinking the size of the Senate. It’s the largest state senate body in the country…that’s pretty ridiculous. Increase the number of House members by one, to 135. Then reduce the number of Senators to 45. This results in a 3:1 ratio, instead of the current 2:1. Who knows, perhaps that’s what they’re planning with the Senate Office building that isn’t big enough to fit all of the current members…

  4. Submitted by mark wallek on 03/25/2014 - 09:32 am.

    Serial dysfunction

    Such a dysfunctional body will not function better in a new, expensive taxpayer funded playground. They should stay where they are and make do like all we little people who elected them.

  5. Submitted by Robert Gauthier on 03/25/2014 - 02:46 pm.

    An alternative thought

    A fancy looking building, no doubt, but new energy standards and LEED building standards call for natural light, skylights, energy conserving materials, etc.
    Could it be possible that is part of the design and the criticism is purely partisan nonsense at election time?

  6. Submitted by John Wexler on 03/25/2014 - 07:28 pm.

    Good investment

    This is not only a place for our legislators, but also a place for Minnesotans to meet their legislators. I have been to the legislature numerous times and It is important that we are able to meet with our legislators in a place that Minnesotans can be proud of. Nowadays we are ushered from one space to another when I am at the capitol because of high demand on space.

    As far as costs go, this is an investment. It will be built according to the latest LEED standards and will in the long run save the taxpayers money.

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