The $241 million Capitol restoration projected is expected to be completed by 2016.
But key project officials warn that a Senate proposal to pay for the next installment of the project with $30 million included in the omnibus tax bill could imperil that timeline.
That’s in part because the money wouldn’t be appropriated until fiscal 2015, which begins on July 1 of next year. Equally problematic is the fact that $30 million is far short of the $109 million that is needed to keep the project on schedule. Bonding packages put together by both the House and Gov. Mark Dayton’s office include $109 million for Capitol restoration.
“I think they just missed on the dates and they missed on the amounts,” said David Hart, the consultant hired by the state to lead the Capitol restoration project, of the Senate proposal. “I appreciate their support. I just would like their money.”
Wayne Waslaski, director of real estate and construction services for the Minnesota Department of Administration, which is overseeing the project, says the Senate plan would cause a significant disruption in the construction schedule. “You’re essentially suspending their work for a year, so they would have to renegotiate contracts for their work a year from now,” Waslaski said. “It would essentially delay the project two years.”
In particular, project officials are worried that they won’t be able to hire contractors for the mechanical and electrical systems that need to be overhauled if the full amount of funding isn’t guaranteed. That process of selecting contractors is already underway and is expected to wrap up before the end of the year. Hart points out that the current Senate proposal could result in having to hire more than one contractor to work on a variety of systems.
If that were to happen, asks Hart, “Who provides the warranty for the system? The last guy in or the first guy in? We can’t deliver to the state — which we’re required to do — a warranty.”
Sen. Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope, who offered the amendment to include $30 million in funding for the Capitol restoration project, says she’s under no illusion that it’s a sufficient amount of money to keep it on schedule. “Think of it as a placeholder,” said Rest, who also sits on the Capitol Area Architectural and Planning Board, and has been among the most vocal advocates of the project. “It’s inadequate. We understand that.”
In fact, Rest would prefer that funding for the project be carried in a bonding bill. But she added it to the tax bill as a failsafe in case there ends up being no capital investment package this year. “There is a lot of uncertainty about whether a bonding bill can pass the House, and [one could] maybe have difficulty in the Senate even too,” Rest said. “We don’t want to get to the end of the session and not have money for continuation. This is a way of doing that.”
New office building
Rest’s proposal also includes $3 million for designing a new state office building north of the Capitol, which is expected to eventually provide office space for some senators. The Senate proposal includes language that requires any plans for that building to be approved by the Senate.
Rest argues that it only makes sense that the Senate be given a significant say in the details of the project, because it will ultimately be their members who are its primary users. “We really not only want just veto power. That’s not really the point of it,” Rest said. “It’s being in on the ground floor in planning the design.”
But Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, the chairwoman of the Capital Investment Committee, chafes at the move to give the Senate primary oversight of the project. “It’s not about them. It’s not about the people who work in the Capitol,” Hausman said. “It’s about restoring the people’s Capitol. Suddenly the most important thing becomes the people who are officed there.”
She’s also still upset that there was no prior notification about the Senate plan from Rest. “Apparently we aren’t talking to one another, because she never came to me before she offered that amendment,” Hausman said. “That was a total surprise. We had to go to them and get a copy.”
The politics of the bonding bill remain murky with just two weeks left in the session. Dayton has put forth a $750 million capital investment package, while the House set its target at $800 million. But the Senate has yet to introduce a bill, and Majority Leader Tom Bakk has repeatedly questioned the need for a significant bonding bill this year. At the same time, Bakk has indicated that if the House passes a bill, the Senate will take up its own capital investment package, regardless of its prospects for passage.
That insistence that the House act first is another source of frustration for Hausman. “In all my years here, I’ve never seen that happen,” she said. “And in all my years here, I’ve never seen that at this point, we don’t have two bills in conference committee. This is an unfathomable approach. And it’s a very risky approach for the state of Minnesota.”
Rest says that whether a bonding bill is passed will need to be settled between Bakk, Dayton and House Speaker Paul Thissen. “Those are decisions reached among our caucus leaders,” she said. “There needs to be what we used to call a global agreement. Then things start to fall in place.”
Officials involved with the Capitol restoration project are now scrambling to communicate their concerns about the insufficiency of the $30 million in the Senate tax bill to legislators. In particular, they hope to make it clear to Rest that moving forward with the current Senate plan would significantly delay the project. Serious demolition activity is slated to begin in the basement in September.
“We want her to know that we really appreciate her support,” said Hart. “She’s been a tremendous supporter of the Capitol. We think that we just need to help them understand that to keep the Capitol moving forward, we really do need the money.”