In a meeting that included sharp words from Gov. Mark Dayton, Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt said Monday that an additional $2 million he sought for the State Capitol renovation project should be spent wherever it can best be used, and not necessarily to bolster historical authenticity in legislative offices.
Daudt told a meeting of the State Capitol Preservation Commission, which is supervising the project, that his intent in advocating for an additional $2 million was that it be available to meet any unanticipated costs tied to the $310 million, multiyear renovation project. "The money is not earmarked for anything, it absolutely is not," said Daudt, R-Crown. "It could be used for furniture, for safety and security items, anything that's a contingency item."
Daudt faced criticism last week that the additional $2 million he sought — and which was inserted into a construction bonding bill during the June special legislative session — would be set aside for historical enhancements in parts of the Capitol building controlled by the legislative caucuses. The Republican speaker had previously been heavily critical of state funding for a new office building for state senators, raising a suggestion of hypocrisy.
Daudt said on Monday that he intended all along that the $2 million be available for general contingency. But e-mails between officials at the Department of Administration suggested that the main topic of discussion between representatives of that agency and the speaker's office concerned renovations in parts of the building that will be used by the House majority. That included the possibility of more furniture, flooring and other interior touches that restored the luster of the building's early-20th-century origins.
At the Capitol Preservation Commission meeting, Dayton — who chairs the panel — said it should be clear to everyone that the request for additional money came from Daudt's office.
"I object to being dragged into the net being cast over this, when it's clear to me it was initiated by you," Dayton said to Daudt.
Perhaps most notable were initial plans for a $10,000 door in those quarters, although Daudt was able to establish that this was a cost estimate released by the Department of Administration and that it did not originate with him. He said he would not support spending that kind of money for a door.
Daudt reiterated that he personally would not be using any of the refurbished legislative space as an office for himself. He said House Republicans would use the new rooms as general meeting space for members but that it would not be set aside for private offices for any members.
Dayton said he did not know about the additional $2 million in the bonding bill when he signed it in June. He likened that to the process by which Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, secured about $90 million for the new Senate building in 2013. Dayton said he also didn't know about that when he signed the bill in which it was included.
"It just seems to be a lot of obfuscation going on here that is inappropriate to the situation," Dayton said.
It's undecided how the extra $2 million will be spent. The decision ultimately will be made by the Capitol Preservation Commission itself, likely later this fall.
Daudt even raised the possibility that the money could go unspent altogether.
"It's preliminary to talk about how that money might be spent," Daudt said. "We don't know what we don't know. We don't know what might crop up."
The renovation cost has ballooned from $273 million to $310 million. Crews are about two years into the project, and the Capitol has been closed to the public for several months. The House chambers will reopen temporarily for next year's legislative session, but the building will have no running water. Port-a-potties will be available down a set of steps on the building's north side.
Much of the building will reopen in early 2017, although the project won't be totally finished until later in 2017. Commission members started to discuss the reopening, which Department of Administration officials envisioned as a "spectacular weeklong celebration." It's not yet clear how much that would cost.