House narrowly rejects Capitol restoration bill

Dean Urdahl
Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, holds up a broken piece from the facade of the State Capitol building Thursday, April 19, 2012, in St. Paul, Minn., where Minnesota House members were taking up funding for a Capitol restoration bill. The stand-alone $221 million bonding bill to restore the state Capitol building failed by one vote in the Minnesota House.
AP Photo/Jim Mone

The Minnesota House has narrowly rejected a $221 million bonding bill for the renovation of the State Capitol building.

Bonding bills need support from at least 81 legislators to pass in the House. But Thursday's vote of 80 to 50 in the Republican-controlled chamber fell just one short. The result also makes it less likely that the Legislature will pass any bonding bills this session.

The restoration of Minnesota's century-old capitol building once appeared to have broad, bipartisan support. Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, backed the project and so did most legislators on both sides of the aisle.

During the debate on the House floor, state Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, outlined a commonly held opinion about the urgency of repairing the "people's house." Urdahl even held up broken pieces from the building to emphasize his point.

"Our consulting architect has told us that if the Capitol were a medical patient, the exterior is on life support," Urdahl said. "The mechanical is in critical condition, the plumbing in critical condition, the electrical system in serious condition. Our mechanical and electrical systems were not designed in 1905 to meet the challenges of a modern state Capitol."

House Republicans proposed two bonding bills this year: the $221 million bill for the Capitol renovation and another $280 million package of public construction projects throughout the state. But Democrats complained that the two-bill approach left out too many of their requested projects. They proposed an alternative $775 million bonding bill.

State Rep. Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said the GOP bills ignore the needs of most Minnesotans.

"We're talking about fixing the building we work in every day, and we're saying to our constituents 'oh the things that you care about, the higher education buildings in your community, the transportation infrastructure in your community, we're not doing anything about that. We're going to take care of us, and then we might get to you. But we might adjourn before we have a chance to get to you,' " Hortman said.

After the vote, state Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker, was still trying to figure out what went wrong. Howes, chairman of the House Capitol Investment Committee, said he was disappointed and a little shocked at the outcome. He also quickly pointed a finger at Democrats.

Capitol cleaning
Maintenance workers clean the exterior of the Minnesota State Capitol dome in a September 2010 file photo.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

"I thought for sure that the Democrats would help and put this together," Howes said. "This is the people's house. I'm very embarrassed for them. If they can't vote for this, I just don't see what they can vote for. I guess my biggest objection is they're voting no because they want to spend more money. Well, they have to have patience and wait for the next bonding bill. If this is the way they want to do it, to me it's just not fair."

During the floor debate, Howes said a vote on the other bonding bill would come soon. But afterwards, he wasn't so sure. Howes said he doubts Democrats would support that bill either.

House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said his caucus did supply enough votes, but he noted that two Republicans were absent from the session. Thissen insists that there is still time to pass a bonding bill this year, if GOP leaders are willing to include Democrats in the discussion.

"We believe that the best approach is to have a bonding bill that does not just the Capitol, but buildings all across the state," Thissen said. "I mean the arguments made about this building and its deterioration are true about buildings and roads and bridges all across the state of Minnesota."

Republicans in the Senate are proposing a $496 million bonding bill. Dayton's proposal is for $775 million.

The size of the final bonding bill was expected to be decided in end-of-session negotiations. But a few hours before the House vote. Dayton told reporters that his talks with GOP leaders were at a stalemate.

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