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Senate Republicans urge delay in vote on $90 million office building

Posted by: Abby Simons under Minnesota legislature, Minnesota state senators Updated: January 14, 2014 - 11:26 AM

Mnnesota Senate Republicans on Tuesday urged Majority Leader Tom Bakk to delay an upcoming hearing to approve design plans for the hotly-debated office building on the Capitol grounds.

“This is an unnecessary project.”  Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said at a news conference Tuesday, adding that the Minnesota State Capitol, currently undergoing renovations, is adequate when it comes to housing Minnesota lawmakers. “There’s no need to set that aside and build this $90 million, some would call it ostentatious, building across the street.”

The building was funded as part of a $2.1 billion tax bill that passed the Legislature last session. Language in that Tax Bill requires the Senate and House Rules Committees to approve the final design. Bakk, DFL-Cook, scheduled the Senate’s for Wednesday with approval of the new building’s design on the agenda.

Hann said that not only will Republicans vote against the project, he urged a delay at least until a court hearing next week a lawsuit challenging the building. Former Minnesota State Rep. Jim Knoblach sued to stop construction, alleging that including the project in the tax bill violates the state constitution.

“We think it’s prudent for the court to have an opportunity to weigh in on this before we act.” Hann said. “It would be irresponsible for us to get a project going that may be in jeopardy.”

Senate DFL spokesman Amos Briggs said Wednesday’s hearing will continue as scheduled. The House Rules Commitee meeting has not yet been scheduled.

The building, which will be located north of the Capitol across University Avenue with an adjoining parking ramp one block west, isn’t without controversy. Its opulent design has drawn ire, along with its planned capacity for only 44 offices.

Minnesota’s 67 state senators currently have offices in the Capitol and the nearby State Office Building, which also houses state representatives.

Concerns over how the building will be paid for, and how it was passed with little to no debate, are other reasons to bring the project to a halt, Senate Republicans said.

“My biggest criticism of this is the process, or the lack of the process,” said Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson. “I sit on the bonding committee, I sit on the finance committee and I will tell you that neither committee heard this matter. This literally came out of nowhere.”

Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, said the project equals another hit on the shrinking confidence for the Legislative process.

“The public out there things that bills come forward that we don’t read before we vote on them,” he said. “Frankly there was nothing here until the last minute. So when they have that kind of perception of what goes on in St. Paul and down here in Washington D.C. there’s a reason why.”

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