A panel of House lawmakers has approved a controversial plan to build a new, $77 million office building for state senators next to the Capitol.
The House Rules Committee narrowly moved the project forward Friday on a split vote of 14-13, with Republicans and one Democratic lawmaker opposed but the rest of the committee's DFL majority in favor. The House altered plans for the building that were previously approved by the Senate, chopping about $13 million off the price tag by scrapping a parking ramp and some amenities including a fitness center.
The House plan also added to the building's total square footage so that it contains office space for all 67 senators, instead of 44 of them as originally planned.
House Majority Leader Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, called the revised plan "the least expensive option and the best long-term option."
The project has been touchy for Democrats, with Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk arguing that it's needed in order to provide space for senators during and after an ongoing renovation of the Capitol building. But Republicans have harshly criticized the project, calling it not necessary, and even DFL Gov. Mark Dayton criticized the original plans as overly lavish and said he thinks it could hurt his party in November.
The House had moved slowly to give its approval, but the House panel's vote on Friday moves the issue toward resolution and removal of a potential obstacle toward peaceful resolution of an issue that has been dividing Democrats.
The building plans still must clear several steps before contractors can break ground. The Senate Rules Committee, which Bakk chairs, must sign off on the House's changes. That panel is meeting Monday. After that, a committee overseeing the Capitol renovation project must also give its stamp.
In addition, construction can't proceed until final resolution of a lawsuit trying to block the building that's currently before the state Supreme Court.