Today, the Senate Rules Committee approved a plan for a new $90 million Senate office building on a party-line vote. The proposal now heads to the House Rules Committee for final approval.
DFLers say the new building is needed because renovations at the Capitol will force some senators to relocate their offices in the short-term and because more space is simply a necessity looking further down the road. But the proposal has been blasted both for featuring an inadequately urban design and for being sneakily tucked into a broader tax bill at the end of the last legislative session.
During a conversation with City Pages today, MNGOP chair and former Senator Keith Downey said even if those concerns are set aside, he doesn't think the proposal represents a responsible expenditure of taxpayer dollars.
"The obvious thing that jumps out is that Democrats raised $2 billion in taxes and a lot more in fees from everyday Minnesotans [last session] and one of their priorities was to build 44 senators a $90 million office building complex," Downey told us. "On top of that, there weren't even any public hearings about it during the legislative session."
Sen. Michelle Fischbach, R-Paynesville, questioned whether there's even really a space crisis in the first place.
"Yes, [the new building] would create two larger hearing rooms, but we've done what we needed to do with what we have," she told us, adding she wouldn't necessarily have been opposed to adding more office space as part of the Capitol renovations, but "would not be supportive of another new project" of any sort right now.
"The process was so flawed," she added, referring to the new building being tucked into the tax bill. "There's a lawsuit about it -- what the Senate leadership did could potentially be illegal. They sent this through on a bill it shouldn't have been on."
Asked why she thinks the Senate DFL leadership elected to go that route, Fischbach said, "I don't know, other than, this was an easier route because in a bonding bill, you need a three-fifths majority. This they simply passed [with a majority]."
So if not in a new office building, where should senators set up shop while the Capitol is being renovated?
"There's plenty of open office space in St. Paul, but [Democrats] clearly wanted a big-ticket facility," Downey replied. "I couldn't tell you all their motivations for going ahead with this, but the other options are obvious and don't cost $90 million."