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House Dems Approve Scaled-Back Senate Building

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(credit: CBS) Pat Kessler
Pat Kessler knows Minnesota politics. He's been on the beat long...
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ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — Top Democrats in the State House Friday approved a scaled-back version of a major new office building next to the Capitol, dedicated to the Minnesota Senate.

The building’s original design had a soaring glass front, with a fitness center and reflecting pool.

The scaled back version is slightly more modest, but no less controversial.

“It’s not us just coming in here picking a fight,” said Rep. Kurt Zellers (R-Maple Grove), a candidate for governor. “People look at this and go, ‘What are they doing?’”

The new office building was born out of the three-year renovation of the State Capitol. It’s a plan that permanently evicts a dozen senators to make room for more public space.

House Democrats cut the Senate building from $93 million to $76.8 million; in part by eliminating an adjacent parking ramp and cutting back on the elegant facade.

“We have made changes to the plan that came from the Senate,” said Rep. Erin Murphy, the DFL House Majority Leader. “I think it is the most cost effective and most functional option going forward.”

Republicans are using the building as a potent campaign weapon, with the House Minority Leader calling Democrats politically “tone deaf.”

“Listen very closely to my voice, members,” said GOP House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, “because this is what the voice of reason sounds like.”

Democratic leaders say the issue is overblown, and evidence that Republicans have nothing else to complain about.

“How can you really complain about all-day, every-day kindergarten, or a tuition freeze, or a balanced budget, or the fact that we ended on time, or the fact that we didn’t shut down the government?” said Rep. Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Park). “This you can complain about.”

The Senate Rule Committee will meet Monday to discuss the office building project.

Sen. Tom Bakk, the DFL Majority leader, released a written statement Friday.

“I commend the House Rules Committee for taking an important step to allow both the Capitol restoration project and the new Capitol office building to proceed. The Senate Rules Committee will convene a hearing on Monday to consider the House’s proposal.

There remains broad support for the long overdue restoration of Minnesota’s deteriorating Capitol building, which will permanently bump many of the Senate’s hearing rooms and offices out of the Capitol and into a new building across the street.

As the Department of Administration confirmed again today, every other feasible alternative and any further delay would be more costly, both in the short term and in the long term.”

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