A fight over office space could lead to construction delays and add to the cost of the $273 million State Capitol renovation project.
So far, the governor, DFL Senate and GOP House are unable to agree on how to allocate space among the branches of government. Until that happens, the State Capitol Preservation Commission cannot approve the next phase of the project because the builder would not know how to proceed.
Gov. Mark Dayton, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, House Speaker Kurt Daudt, Attorney General Lori Swanson and the judiciary must all sign off, and only the judiciary has done so.
Dayton told the commission Wednesday that he, Bakk and Daudt have been in intense negotiations in recent days and that they have made significant progress. The House changed hands and became Republican after the November election.
Dayton and Bakk said after the commission meeting that an agreement is close at hand.
Daudt, R-Crown, said in a statement: "My priority through this process is making sure the public has more space in their renovated State Capitol. I think we are very close to a final agreement."
All three seemed unwilling to discuss the specifics of the disagreement publicly, lest the negotiations collapse.
Despite the overall optimism, electoral politics hovered in the background. Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, is not in the negotiations but sought to use the day's Capitol space disagreement to remind the public of the new Senate office building, which is costing taxpayers $77 million. DFL senators should have enough space in the new building without demanding still more in the renovated Capitol, he said.
Republicans used the new office building as a cudgel during the 2014 election that helped turn the House back to the GOP.
Any delay of the Capitol renovation would begin to increase project costs soon, eventually to the tune of $680,000 per month. Commission members were informed that a slowdown could create other difficulties, such as a shortage of skilled workers, who may want to bolt, given the region's booming construction market.
Also, bids have been approved and contracts are ready to be signed, but they will expire on Jan. 31. A new bidding process could cost even more, due to rising construction costs.
There was further talk Wednesday of the shape of the 2016 legislative session amid an intense phase of the construction, during which only the House chambers will be available for use. Legislative leaders are actively pursuing the idea of conducting the session off-site to allow Capitol construction to steam ahead at full speed, though they've struggled to find an appropriate space.
Bakk called for a "short, concise session that will address the needs of Minnesotans." Hann reiterated his desire, voiced last week, for no session at all.
The commission agreed to meet next week. Dayton said he hopes an agreement with Daudt and Bakk will be reached by then. If agreement is reached by then, there will be no additional costs.
Despite the snag, Dayton said the project would make Minnesotans proud: "People in this state respect and revere that building as a symbol of democracy," he said. "We're there as their emissaries to this democratic process. It says a lot about the greatness of Minnesota."