DFL Gov. Mark Dayton says $90 million is too much to spend on a new Minnesota Senate building. He also doesn't like the look of it on paper.
"I think the building itself is necessary ... We're talking about a project for the next century," Dayton told reporters Wednesday. "But I think the price tag on it, and appearance of it, are a little high."
Lawmakers agreed to build an office building and two parking ramps near the State Capitol as part of last session's tax bill. They approved $3 million for design work, which is already well underway.
The early cost estimates are $63 million for the building and $26 million for the parking. Preliminary drawings call for a curved, three-story building located directly across University Avenue on the north side of the Capitol.
The sketches show a lot of glass, large public hearing spaces, a locker room area for staff and a reflecting pool out front.
Dayton said he wants a more modest, less expensive version and planned to share his concerns soon with Senate leaders.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, however, cautioned against jumping to conclusions.
"These are conceptual drawings on the part of the architect," said Bakk, a DFLer from Cook. "I think until people see final plans, they probably should reserve judgment on what the building is going to look like, and how functional it's going to be and is it really going to be the durable, long term type building that's in the taxpayers interest."
The new building is needed to make up for the square footage lawmakers will lose once the renovation of the Capitol is complete, Bakk added. Under present Senate arrangements, the majority party is housed in the Capitol while the minority is housed in the State Office Building. Bringing Democrats and Republicans together under one roof is important, Bakk said.
"I often describe it as drinking from the same drinking fountain. I just think the Senate as an institution will be much better served," he added. "The public will be better served if members of the Senate share the same workspace, the same office space moving forward."
Republican Sen. Warren Limmer of Maple Grove, though, says the current office space is adequate and the new building would not bring everyone together.
Under the plan, he noted, less than two-thirds of senators will use the new building and Senate leadership would remain in "really choice offices" in the Capitol.
"If we're going to spend $90 to $100 million, I would think that we could put everyone in the same building, if we needed the building at all," Limmer said.
The office building project is also facing a legal challenge.
Former Republican state Rep. Jim Knoblach filed a lawsuit in October, claiming the funding measure is unconstitutional. A Ramsey County Court hearing is scheduled in January, the same month that top lawmakers are expected to see the final plans.