DFL: MNGOP angst over $90 million Senate building is just politics as usual

A rendering of the proposed building.

A rendering of the proposed building.

MNGOPers aren't happy with a DFL-led proposal to build a new $90 million Senate office building near the Capitol, with Sen. Michelle Fischbach, R-Paynesville, going as far as to tell us, "what the Senate leadership did could potentially be illegal."

THE BACKSTORY: MNGOP Sen. Fischbach on Senate building: DFL action "could potentially be illegal"

But Amos Briggs, Senate DFL communications director, thinks comments of that sort just represent Republicans playing 11th-hour politics with a proposal that was relatively uncontroversial as it made its way through the legislature last spring.

Fischbach's concern about the legality of the new building's approval process stems from the fact it was included as part of the broader tax bill, which allegedly shielded it from more direct scrutiny. But Briggs pointed out to us that the last two buildings constructed on the Capitol campus -- the Department of Agriculture and Health's Orville Freeman Building and the Elmer L. Andersen Human Services Building -- were approved using the same sort of "lease-purchase" procedure.

He also objected to the notion the building was "tucked in" to the tax bill, pointing out that legislators had multiple opportunities to raise concerns about the project.

The amendment that approved funding for the building's design work "was adopted in April during a public hearing of the Senate tax committee, nearly a month before the session adjourned in May," Briggs said.

"The Tax Bill passed with bipartisan support, and no Republican offered an amendment to delete the legislative building provision from the bill during floor debate," Briggs continued. "This was not added in the final moments of session."

Briggs also rejected the argument that instead of constructing a new $90 million office building near the Capitol, the state should just save that money and have legislators look for office space elsewhere in St. Paul.

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"After the Capitol renovations are complete, the Senate will no longer fit in its current spaces. Various upgrades meant to serve our disabled community, meet modern mechanical standards, and improve life-safety needs will cause a permanent loss of 23,000 square feet in the Capitol," he said. "Permanently moving the Senate off the Capitol complex would be costly, would greatly disrupt the legislative process and would make Senators far less accessible to the general public who comes to participate in state government at the Capitol."

But about the price tag? Even if you accept Briggs's arguments, isn't there a way to construct a serviceable building for less than $90 million?

Asked that question, Briggs said the design that's now a single House Rules Committee vote from final approval represents a "happy medium" between earlier, gaudier proposals and those who want the thing to be as bare-bones as possible.

"Many of the amenities proposed by the architects during the workshop process, and subsequently reported on by the press, are not included in the designs approved [Wednesday] -- no reflecting pools, fitness center, skylights, or public plaza," Briggs said.

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