Problems with water damage, additional need for security improvements and other unforeseen costs have added $30 million to the cost of a major State Capitol building renovation, Gov. Mark Dayton and lawmakers learned Friday.
If the additional money is approved by lawmakers, it would push the total price of the multi-year renovation to about $300 million. Dayton and lawmakers discussed the additional costs Friday in a meeting of the panel overseeing the project, which also saw leading lawmakers second-guessing some of the decisions by the project's architects.
The biggest chunk of the additional $30 million in costs, about $17 million, is tied to addressing what the architects described as "water intrusion and settlement." Last spring, demolition work tied to the renovation uncovered evidence of widespread water leaks into the Capitol basement, particularly underneath two outdoor staircases on the east and west sides of the building.
Dayton and lawmakers expressed some irritation about the idea of having to pony up more money for the project, but there seemed to be bipartisan agreement it was probably necessary.
"I don't know what the alternative would be," Dayton said. Said Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester: "This seems in order -- we're mobilized, we're in there already, let's do it right."
The additional spending has to be approved through the legislative process. Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said some of that might be able to come from construction bonds, but also suggested a portion may have to come directly from the general fund.
About $20 million from a contingency fund for the project is mostly spent, which Dayton said was also unfortunate but not too surprising.
"It's a huge building and it's 109 years old," Dayton said.
After discussing the cost overruns, Dayton and lawmakers haggled with the project's planners about public access to the building.
Severall senators were upset with tentative plans to park school buses and place handicapped parking spots directly at the building's front, facing south toward downtown St. Paul.
Bakk and Sen. Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope, expressed a strong preference that school buses could instead be parked along the building's east side, on Cedar Avenue. Bakk noted that a new Senate parking ramp under construction just north of the Capitol would have a lot of handicapped spots.
Dayton, as he has previously, weighed in on the building's art. A recent assessment by Ted Lentz, an architect and member of the Capitol Area Architectual and Planning Board, valued the building's art assets as a stunning $1 billion, but Dayton has been critical of certain aspects of the art, suggesting it over-emphasizes Civil War battles and portraits of former governors.
A subcommittee of the Capitol Preservation panel has been working on envisioning how to highlight existing art and possibly incorporate new art, too. The panel on Friday backed a request for $3 million in additional dollars to restore existing art that in some cases is damaged.
Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty talked up Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's chances in the emerging Republican presidential race, saying his fellow Midwesterner is best situated to challenge former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
"Jeb clearly is the establishment candidate, and he's raised a boatload of money," Pawlenty said Friday at the University of Minnesota. But in a national GOP fragmented between what's left of the establishment, neoconservatives, libertarians, tea partiers, social conservatives and others, Pawlenty said Walker is best situated to straddle that factionalization.
"Scott is from a Midwestern state, but he's got a national profile and national fundraising capabilities," Pawlenty said, norting Walker's successful efforts to weaken labor union power in Wisconsin.
Drawing parallels between their experiences, Palenty said Walker's success in a Democratic-leaning state has taught him how to speak to moderate voters.
"If you're governing in MInnesota or Wisconsin, there's a common sense craft in how you make common sense arguments using conservative principles," Pawlenty said. "Scott's conservative, but he doesn't scare the establishment."
Now working as CEO of the Financial Services Roundtable, a Washington-based lobbying group for banks, Pawlenty said he's not ready to endorse a GOP candidate but did not rule out doing so. He did have scathing comments for one prominent Republican, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
In 2008, Pawlenty and Palin were both finalists to be running mate to Sen. John McCain; Palin won out. At the time, Pawlenty said, he didn't know what to make of her. He later made up his mind.
"One of the criteria is, you have to be able to do the job" of president, Pawlenty said. "You have to be qualified and prepared. I don't think that Gov. Palin would be viewed by the country or should be viewed by the country as a wise selection to be president."
Pawlenty's appearance at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs was mostly a Q-and-A session with former state House Speaker Steve Sviggum, who now teaches there. Sviggum and Pawlenty were close allies in the late '90s and early '00s, when Sviggum led the House and Pawlenty was his deputy.
Elected governor in 2002, Pawlenty narrowly won a second term in 2006 -- still the last time a Republican has won a statewide race in Minnesota. Pawlenty said he thinks Minnesota has shifted a little to the left since then, and he said the state Republican Party must "market itself better" to new groups of voters.
Pawlenty talked little about his failed 2012 bid for president, where he flamed out early in a crowded field of Republican contenders. "Just about everything we did" was a mistake, he said, particularly the decision to spend limited campaign resources on winning a straw poll of Iowa caucus voters.
While repeatedly describing himself as "politically retired," Pawlenty weighed in on a number of state and national issues. He spoke most about education policy, a favorite issue during his time as governor.
The closest Pawlenty came to commenting on a current issue before the Legislature was to voice support for changing Minnesota's seniority-based system for hiring and firing teachers. A bill to scrap that system recently passed the state House, but faces a skeptical audience with Pawlenty's DFL successor, Gov. Mark Dayton.
Still, Pawlenty declined to criticize Dayton.
"I try not to comment on the current governor because it always annoyed me when former governors weighed in," Pawlenty said. "It's like, shut the hell up."
Like a good politician, Pawlenty refused to completely rule out a future run for office, but tried to discourage speculation that he might. Dayton is not running again in 2018, leaving an opening in Pawlenty's old job, and both of Minnesota's U.S. Senate seats are currently held by Democrats.
"I had a full run at it," Pawlenty said. But noting he's still a relatively young 54, he added: "I don't ultimately know what the future holds."
Gov. Mark Dayton will lead a trade mission to Mexico this August.
The governor's office revealed plans for the trip Tuesday. Full details and exact dates for the trip will be revealed later this week.
It will be Dayton's third trade mission as governor, The trips have become a tradition not just for Minnesota governors but by governors around the country. The trips primarily involve a group of business and political leaders trying to cultivate new trade markets for state producers.
Mexico is the United States' number two trading partner, after Canada. Former Gov. Jesse Ventura led a Minnesota trade mission there in 2000.
In his first term, Dayton led such trips to Europe and southeast Asia.
Democrats and Republicans at the Capitol agreed Friday that Minnesota's projected $1.9 billion budget surplus is great news for the state, but there was considerably less agreement on what to do with it.
"Today is good news for Minnesotans," said House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, echoing comments by Gov. Mark Dayton and DFL legislative leaders.
But, where Dayton and DFL allies suggested greater spending on areas like education and transportation, the GOP's emphasis was as-yet-unspecified tax relief -- and the argument that Dayton now should jettison his proposal to raise state taxes on gasoline for transportation projects.
"I think this surplus means Democrats can stop talking about a gas tax in St. Paul," Daudt said. That's after Dayton said just a few minutes earlier that he intended to proceed with that proposal, which involves a new, 6-percent-per- gallon tax on gas at the wholesale level. Daudt said a portion of the surplus should be spent directly on rebuilding roads and bridges.
Daudt was elusive about what kind of tax relief Republicans might pursue. But he suggested at least $900 million, or about half the new surplus figure, should be returned to taxpayers. Whether that might come in the form of wide-reaching relief, like an income or sales tax cut or rebate, or more targeted relief through tax credits or carve-outs to smaller subsets of taxpayers, he wouldn't say.
"Anything is on the table," Daudt said.
Various Republican lawmakers have already introduced bills tending toward the latter approach, with tax relief for businesses meant to promote new job creation, tax relief for farmers and other proposals.
Still, it was clear Republicans have their eyes on spending some portion of the surplus. Besides roads and bridges, Daudt and other GOP leaders expressed an interest in boosting state payments to nursing homes and spending more on schools, among other possible priorities.
"We will be proposing spending but it will be spending targeted at results," said Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie.
As new spending requests from interest groups flooded in via press release, Democratic legislative leaders said the new money available should be focused toward programs that aid working families.
"We hope to hear the priorities of communities across the state," said Senate Deputy Majority Leader Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis.
Gov. Mark Dayton, Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk said Wednesday they were close to striking a deal that would settle a festering dispute over the governor's recent pay raises for his agency commissioners.
Talks over those pay raises blew up last week between fellow DFLers Bakk and Dayton, who called the Senate majority leader "conniving" and a backstabber who had lost his trust.
Daudt, a Republican, has apparently been acting as an intermediary of sorts between the two DFLers; Daudt and Dayton met Wednesday morning at the governor's residence, and Daudt and Bakk have also been in touch in recent days. The goal has been agreeing on a budget deficiency bill that would include some sort of provision responding to Dayton's commissioner pay hikes, which have drawn the ire of both Republican and Democratic lawmakers.
"The governor is eager to get the focus of the session back to the priorities of Minnesotans," spokesman Linden Zakula said. "To that end, he is working with House and Senate leadership to pass the deficiency bill and bring the salary dispute to an end."
The budget deficiency bill contains about $16 million for several state agency that need small cash infusions to reach the June 30 end of the state's fiscal year. But it got wrapped up in the pay raise dispute after Bakk led an effort in the Senate to delay the pay raises until July 1.
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