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MN Senate panel approves $77M Senate building

An artist’s drawing shows the back of a proposed new Minnesota legislative office building and the state Capitol across the street. Minnesota Administration Department drawing

ST. PAUL — The new, slimmed-down Senate office building project got the OK from the Senate Rules committee Monday, clearing the way for construction to potentially begin July 1.

Financing is being held up by an outstanding legal challenge, but Monday’s approval was the last substantive authorization needed for the project.

“Once the lawsuit’s resolved, the building will be ready for construction,” said Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook.

He said he’d like to start work on it before July 1 to reduce the risk of potential disruption to the related Capitol renovation process.

The office building project has been criticized by the minority Republican Party as being wasteful and insufficiently vetted, and Monday’s vote to approve the plan was a partisan 8-5 vote, with the Democratic-Farmer-Labor members in favor and Republicans opposed.

The Senate Rules Committee approved a building plan in January that was attacked as too lavish.

Last Friday, the House Rules committee endorsed a revised plan that increased the space in order to house all 67 senators and their staff members instead of just 44. But it reduced the overall project cost to the public in part by cutting an off-site parking ramp and making the on-site ramp user-financed.

The cost to taxpayers dropped from $94 million to $77 million. It was that new plan that the Senate Rules Committee approved Monday.

Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, tried unsuccessfully Monday to table the issue, arguing it made no sense to approve a new design for the Senate office building without knowing what related changes would be made in other Capitol complex buildings.

Currently, DFL majority senators have offices in the Capitol, and Republican minority senators are housed across the street in the State Office Building. Might senators wind up with offices in more than one building, Hann asked?

Wayne Waslaski, senior director of real estate and construction services for the state Administration Department, said conversations about revised space usage would happen after the Rules committee’s approval.

Bakk said it’s possible members of Senate leadership could have an office both in the Capitol and in the new building, but that would be unlikely for senators not holding leadership posts. The current legislative directory shows 11 members of Senate leadership.

A spokesman for Gov. Mark Dayton said Monday evening that the governor had not yet reviewed the revised plan for the Senate office building in detail. Dayton criticized the previous plan as too expensive.

Last year, DFL lawmakers put language authorizing the project in a tax bill that passed on the last night of the legislative session. Dayton signed it into law.

While the law authorized the building, it required the House and Senate rules committees to approve the final plan.

Now that that’s happened, the final obstacle is the lawsuit, filed by former Republican Rep. Jim Knoblach of St. Cloud. It is pending in the Supreme Court.

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.