State Senate building costs spark renewed debate

The state of Minnesota would begin paying for the new legislative office building under construction next door to the Capitol, as well as its annual operational costs, under legislation moving through the Minnesota Senate.

The Senate State Departments and Veterans omnibus bill sets a standing appropriation for the lease-purchase agreement used to construct the $90 million Senate building and parking ramp project. Those payments total $12.9 million for the next two years and then increase to $16.4 million in the following biennium and beyond.

In addition,

the bill begins paying operational and maintenance costs that will top $2 million a year once the building is open.

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Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, stressed that the operational and maintenance money is already being spent.

“It’s being spent cleaning Senate offices and Senate hearing rooms either here in the Capitol or over in the House office building,” Bakk said. “I think it would be a little unfair to characterize that as new spending.”

Bakk said the Department of Administration has not provided an estimate of the current costs to make comparisons.

He also said if the costs are too high, a provision in the bill allows for the Senate to hire an outside contractor to operate and clean the new building.

“It’s something we’re going to contemplate,” he said.

Republicans have criticized the project every step of the way. The Senate bill is renewing those complaints.

Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said he still has many concerns about how the building was approved and financed.

“There are questions about the parking, for example, and the rather dramatic increase in parking costs that employees are going to have to bear,” Hann said. “There are question about this whole deal. This is not the way it should have been done in the first place. If you’re going to build a building, do it in a bonding bill.”

House Republicans are set to roll out their funding bill for state government Tuesday morning. House State Government Finance Chair Sarah Anderson, R-Plymouth, said there is no money in the bill for Senate building payments or its operational and maintenance costs.

“I’m not including that as part of my bill,” Anderson said. “This is not how Minnesotans expected their tax dollars to be spent, on some building that was completely unnecessary.”

Anderson said the issue will have to be worked out in conference committee.

DFL Gov. Mark Dayton included money for the building in his budget proposal.