It was never going to be easy — even when they were all DFLers — for the governor, House and Senate leaders, and the attorney general to decide how to divide space in the renovated Capitol.
But the inability of the State Capitol Preservation Commission to meet Wednesday’s contractor-imposed deadline for a space allocation plan is worrisome. The commission, chaired by Gov. Mark Dayton, now has until Jan. 22 to make up its mind about how to configure the interior of the 110-year old Cass Gilbert masterpiece, now undergoing a four-year, $272 million renewal.
If the commission blows that deadline, too, the project faces cost overruns to the unacceptable tune of $680,000 per month — or more, if key workers are lured away to other projects, the commission was told.
The precise nature of the space dispute that held up action Wednesday wasn’t disclosed. But already last session, whispers had it that some senior state senators were loath to surrender Capitol space that has been allocated to the Senate majority since the mid-1970s. A new office building for senators, scheduled for 2016 completion, will accommodate all 67 of them. But three Senate committee hearing rooms will remain in the Capitol. Key committee chairs and their staffs want their offices close by.
That would be convenient — for them. It wouldn’t be for Capitol visitors seeking to find their senators. It wouldn’t be for the governor or the attorney general if it limits their ability to consolidate their operations in one location.
And it would be a shame if the Senate’s desires pinched planned improvements in accommodations for the public. The Capitol should be both a working center of government and a place of hospitality, education and assembly for visitors of all kinds. Improving the visiting public’s experience has been one of the renovation’s key promises.
Dayton spoke well Wednesday when he reminded the commission — which includes representatives of all four legislative caucuses — that the Capitol belongs to the people. Their interests should be paramount in the space allocation decisions. And their interests also require keeping the Capitol project on time and on budget, by meeting key deadlines.