Senate Republicans and their staffers will be locked out of a Capitol parking ramp starting Saturday, the latest flash point in an ongoing political feud over the new Minnesota Senate Building.
Republican senators said Friday that they were told about the decision this week and that it came at the direction of Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook.
Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, called the latest development retribution by Bakk for his caucus’ decision to stay in their current offices. Hann has tried to turn the new $90 million building into an election issue, calling it expensive and unnecessary. He has taken a high-profile stand against moving into the new offices.
“My sense is that this was a political step because the majority is mad at us that we elected not to move,” Hann said. “This is a way to make our lives more difficult.”
Hann said his caucus wanted to avoid a disruptive and costly move from their current offices to the new building for a short legislative session starting in March. The Senate GOP plans to move after the election, Hann said.
In November, two months before the building was set to open, Senate GOP leaders said they would not join DFL state senators when they moved to their newly constructed offices. They said they would stay put in their current State Office Building space, where some GOP state senators park in a designated ramp.
Senate DFL spokeswoman Alyssa Siems Roberson said Senate Republicans’ refusal to move their offices and use parking spaces in the new building is creating logistical problems.
She said that under a lease agreement with the Department of Administration, plans included moving all of the Senate and their staff into the Minnesota Senate Building. The move would free up parking space that would be available to the public.
Siems Roberson said Bakk was unavailable for comment on Friday.
“Republicans refusing to join their Democratic colleagues in the building does not change the terms of this lease,” Siems Roberson said in a statement. “Our goal is, and always has been, increasing access to the public on the legislative process, and turning over parking back to the Department of Administration will have that effect.”
Hann said senators are being directed to park in the Minnesota Senate Building where parking costs about $150 per month, double what they are paying currently. Senators will not be allowed to park on surface lots, he said, noting that many members of his caucus currently do so for about $30 per month.
Hann said staffers will be most affected. “What is of concern is when they attack the public employees,” he said. “In this case, trying to make the lives of our staff more inconvenient. It’s so petty.”
Staff parking subsidized
Siems Roberson noted that staff parking in the new building will be subsidized, costing $75. Senators will pay the full rate of about $150 a month in the new building.
State Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said he and other Republican colleagues in the Senate are irked at the changes in parking arrangements. “To force us all into the new Minnesota Senate Building when our offices are in the State Office Building, it makes it very, very inconvenient.”
Legislators will be split up among at least three buildings during the upcoming legislative session, starting March 8. House members and staff have offices in the State Office Building and will hold floor sessions in the Capitol, which will have limited public space because of construction.
The Minnesota Senate will hold floor sessions in the newly opened office building, where DFL senators and staff are currently housed.
Though Gazelka still believes the new Senate building was wasteful, he said he will abide by the new parking arrangements.
“If that’s my only option, that’s where I’ll go,” he said.
Of the longer walk, he added: “At least I’ll get some good exercise every day.”
Ricardo Lopez • 651-925-5044