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A Ramsey County judge has dismissed a former state lawmaker's attempt to block construction of a $90 million office and parking complex for the Minnesota Senate.
Former state Rep. Jim Knoblach, a Republican from St. Cloud, argued in the suit that plans for the Senate's new quarters were wasteful and unnecessary. More importantly, he said, by slipping funding for the project into a massive tax bill in the final hours of the 2013 session, the Senate violated the state's single-subject rule, which says that "no law shall embrace more than one subject, which shall be expressed in its title."
But Judge Lezlie Marek rejected that argument, writing in her order of dismissal Thursday that the legislation did not violate the single subject requirement. The $2 billion tax bill was a sprawling piece of legislation, but Marek ruled that the office building provision is linked to the rest by a common thread of "financing and raising revenue to fund state and local government operations."
She did, however, rule that Knoblach did have standing to bring his case to the court as a Minnesota taxpayer, even though he was no longer a state legislator who would be directly affected by the project.
"I'm disappointed in the outcome, of course," said Knoblach, who is still debating avenues of appeal with his attorney. "I think this is a really important issue, and I still think I'm right on it. The building itself is a big waste of money. We didn't need to spend $90 million. There are other, much less costly, alternatives."
Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, welcomed the dismissal.
"Today's news is an important step forward for the legislative building project as well as the renovation of the Capitol," he said in a statement. "I look forward to both projects proceeding without further delay."
The project now moves to the House Rules committee, which must sign off on the building design. The Senate rules committee approved the project last month, over Republican objections.
Right now, state Senators have offices in the Capitol itself or in the nearby State Office Building, which also houses the offices of state Representatives. With the Capitol under renovation for the next three years, senators argued that the time was right to move to their own space.
Some of the early designs for the $63 million office building — including reflecting pools and a Senate gymnasium — raised eyebrows and sparked calls from Gov. Mark Dayton to scale the project back.