Opinion: Senate office building still in the works while bills wrap up

Heinzman

Heinzman

Gov. Mark Dayton said April 10 that soon he will no longer need crutches and is not feeling any pain from his hip replacement.

During a recent interview with the ECM Editorial Board, the governor obviously also wasn’t feeling any political pain.

Most of the major bills – the tax bill, increase in the minimum wage and the anti-bullying bill – have all been passed, with the DFL in control of the House and the Senate.

There’s not much left to do, except approve the supplemental spending bill and the bonding bill.

The medical marijuana bill still has a chance of passing, DFL leaders say.

The DFL is in control, and all the Republican legislators can do is chip away at bills they know will pass.

Minority Senate Leader David Hann and Minority House Leader Kurt Daudt contend Minneapolis and St. Paul liberals are driving the agenda, with little regard to what outstate citizens want. The DFL leadership, they say, isn’t considering their amendments.

With little left to do, legislators are feuding over a proposed Senate office building that could cost $76 million, or $90 million if the project includes underground parking, since the site replaces a staff parking lot.

Where to house senators, now officed in the Capitol, both while it is being remodeled and beyond, has become contentious between the DFL House and Senate and the Republican minority leadership.

Some Senate leaders and their staffs have their offices in the Capitol, while others have offices on a floor of the State Office building.

Senators now in the Capitol will have to office temporarily somewhere starting next year when the west wing of the Capitol undergoes remodeling and restoration. Leasing temporary space and remodeling it into offices and conference rooms is too expensive.

Last year, the idea emerged to build a Senate office building so all the senators would be in one place. Not so fast, said Majority Leader Sen. Tom Bakk, who favors restoring the Capitol the way it was built in 1905, with Senate leaders having offices in the Capitol. He wants the public to come and witness the process of government.

“There’s something special about doing business in the Capitol. It is a living, working building,” he said.

Some House leaders object and believe all senators and their staffs should move to the new Senate office building in 2017.

Republican leaders see the building of a Senate office as a campaign issue to recapture the House during this fall’s election.

Hann and Daudt said the office building was not well-planned and did not get a hearing. They say it’s too expensive and lavish.

At first the architects included a reflecting pool and an exercise room. That’s been removed, the landscaping has been scaled back, and it won’t be as glassy.

Hann and Daudt wonder what all the space in the Capitol will be used for once the senators move out. Part of the restoration, which includes cleaning and repairing the outside walls of the Capitol, is rearranging use of space to accommodate the public.

For years the public has been crammed into small hearing rooms while testifying before legislative committees. During the legislative session, corridors, halls and the rotunda are crowded with lobbyists, visitors and school kids touring the Capitol.

Plans call for bigger conference rooms, an enlarged office for the governor, an expanded Rathskeller restaurant and a bigger classroom for the Minnesota Historical Society. The whole building will be more accessible for the handicapped.

The media will have more and modernized space, along with a special room for press conferences.

Bakk says everyone is gaining space in the remodeled Capitol, except the Senate, which is losing 35,000 square feet.

The House and Senate Rules Committees have signed off on a plan to have all senators housed in the new office building.

There’s room for more discussion, and the final plan is yet to be determined.

Hann said the building will happen because the Democrats have the majority.

Meanwhile, Dayton says the session will end on time and probably go down to the wire over the bonding bill. The DFL will see to it that the session will end on time, an office building dispute not withstanding.

 

Don Heinzman is a columnist for ECM Publishers Inc.

 
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