(This post has been updated)
When the newly renovated and remodeled Minnesota Capitol debuts in early 2017, it will feature what planners are describing as a major boost in the amount of space and facilities that are open and available to the public.
That includes a third-floor "Cass Gilbert Library," named after the building's original architect, that will be illuminated by a series of newly recovered, original skylights that have been boarded up for decades. Also new to the Capitol will be a public information center, an increase in the number of bathrooms and elevators, two reservable public dining rooms and a couple of public classrooms, and a room for mothers of young children.
"This is going to be some really fantastic public and available space that will restore a lot of the 1905 original architecture," Matt Massman, commissioner of the Department of Administration, said Thursday at a meeting of the Capitol Preservation Commission, a panel led by Gov. Mark Dayton that's overseeing the $273 million renovation project. The Capitol originally opened to the public in 1905.
Dayton and the panel of lawmakers signed off on a "space allocation agreement" at the Thursday meeting, after several weeks of negotiation between Gov. Mark Dayton, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk and House Speaker Kurt Daudt. By striking a deal late Wednesday and making it official Thursday, the elected leaders just avoided what construction managers warned would have been costly delays if the space negotiations had continued to drag on.
The final deal left the Senate with considerably less space in the remade Capitol, both compared to before the renovation and to what Bakk had originally sought. Pre-renovation, a total of 39 state senators had offices in the Capitol; Bakk said he had sought 23 senator offices after the construction, but in the end he settled for four.
That leaves 63 senators who will have offices in a new Senate office building that's currently under construction north of the Capitol. That project has been politically controversial, but Bakk said it created the space that's needed to create more public space in the remade Capitol, and to give more room in the big building for the governor's office and the House.
"The Capitol would permanently be a Senate office building if it weren't for that project across the street," Bakk said.
The four Senate offices that remain in the Capitol will likely go to the majority and minority leaders, and likely two top committee chairs. Bakk stressed that no state senator would have more than one office. Rep. Paul Torkelson, a House Republican on the preservation panel, said no House members would have permanent office space in the new Capitol. House members all have offices in another adjacent building, the uncreatively named State Office Building.
The governor's office is gaining about 7,000 square feet of space in the renovated Capitol, while the House will gain about 2,700 square feet of additional space. The Senate is surrendering nearly 43,000 square feet of space.
In recent months, the premier building of Minnesota government has been rung by scaffolding and wrapped in sheets of white canvas as work crews execute the renovation. Major portions of the building are currently closed off to lawmakers and the public alike even as the 2015 session has gotten underway. The renovation project is scheduled to be finished up in time for the 2017 legislative session.
Some key outstate players held a conference call and outlined priorities in a session that is already shaping up to be consequential for rural Minnesota.
Bradley Peterson, lobbyist for the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities; Dan Dorman, executive director of the Greater Minnesota Partnership and a former state representative; and Marty Seifert, CGMC lobbyist and a former state legislator, laid out an outstate agenda that totals nearly half a billion dollars.
Peterson said the key priorities are local government aid, broadband access, job training, workforce housing and transportation.
They want local government aid of $45 million by 2017, which would return it to 2002 levels (not adjusted for inflation.) They're also asking for broadband access similar to last year's $20 million; job training; a workforce tax credit; and $400 million for outstate transportation, split evenly between local roads and busier arteries they call "corridors of commerce" such as Highway 23.
Given House Republican victories in outstate Minnesota, where they flipped 10 districts, plus Senate DFL Majority Leader Tom Bakk's rural geographic base, many Capitol observers believe outstate is well positioned to do well this session.
As many as 130,000 Minnesota families could receive state help to reduce the cost of child care and dependent care for the elderly under a proposal by Gov. Mark Dayton unveiled Tuesday.
Dayton, the two-term DFL governor, said the initiative would provide direct tax relief that could reduce the cost of child care and dependent care for working families.
"Rising childcare costs have put hard financial strains on many Minnesota families, making it increasingly difficult for working parents to hold their jobs while assuring quality care for their children," Dayton said in a statement. "My Child Care Tax Credit helps to provide Minnesota families with options -- so they don't have to choose between working and caring for their families."
The proposal would provide about $100 million direct tax relief. Under Dayton's plan, the average family would receive $481; the maximum benefit would be $2,100 for eligibile families.
Photo: Gov. Mark Dayton gives his inaugural address earlier this month at the Landmark Center in St. Paul. (Leila Navidi/Star Tribune)
Gov. Mark Dayton on Friday said he was open to considering a teacher seniority bill proposed by a DFL senator but expressed disappointment with Senate Minority Leader David Hann for sharing details of a conversation the two had on the issue.
"First of all, I said anything we discussed at the residence is supposed to stay at the residence, so I can’t trust Senator Hann and other leaders on both sides of the aisle to keep to that promise and we’ll have to modify our future conversations, but I said to him that I was open to considering it, I didn’t say I supported it," Dayton told reporters after an event in Brooklyn Park.
The conversation was over legislation proposed by Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, who broke with her party by introducing a bill Thursday that would end so-called "last in, first out" practices in teacher layoffs. House Republicans have introduced similar legislation and Bonoff has secured the support of two other Republican senators who signed on as cosponsors of her bill.
"Clearly this is going to be a subject for legislative review and initiative, so I’m open to considering it, but I’m not advocating for it, per se," Dayton said.
A spokeswoman for Hann declined to comment on Dayton's remarks.
When Republicans last controlled the Legislature in 2012 they pushed through a measure that would have eliminated last-in, first-out practices, arguing that they hurt student achievement. Dayton vetoed the bill — which Bonoff supported — saying it was vague and premature in the absence of a well-developed, objective evaluation system.
Lawmakers will consider several bills that could eliminate teacher seniority from consideration in layoff decisions, including one introduced by a DFL state senator who will have to build support from other members within her own party.
Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, on Thursday broke with her party by introducing a bill that would consider merit instead of seniority when schools make layoff decisions. Republicans have long been critical of so-called “last in, first out” practices, arguing that it hurts student achievement.
Supporters say it’s important to retain the most experienced teachers in the classroom. “It is my belief that really in every profession merit ought to be what gets someone hired, promoted or kept,” Bonoff said. “I believe especially in a profession where our teachers play such an important role in shaping the lives of our young people that we want to make sure the very best teachers are in every classroom.
The bill introduced Thursday isn’t the first time Bonoff has supported ending the teacher seniority protection. The Minnetonka lawmaker voted for a 2012 bill that Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed, calling it premature and vague in the absence of an objective evaluation system.
The landscaped has changed since then. A teacher evaluation system has now been implemented statewide, giving school districts more data on teachers’ effectiveness in the classroom. Under the state evaluation law, 35 percent of a teacher’s evaluation must gauge student achievement as measured by tests.
“School districts have the tools, they have the information available to implement whatever improvements they think are necessary in their system,” Dayton said in an interview earlier this month. “We’re on that track, and if the Legislature wants to review the track and look at it, then that’s fine.”
The DFL governor, now serving his second and final term, has not yet reviewed Bonoff’s bill, a spokesman said.
Education Minnesota, the state's teacher union, opposes the legislation.