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Senate Office Building Gets Legal Green Light

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(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota Supreme Court removed a legal barrier Thursday that threatened to block or delay a new government office building for state senators.

The decision effectively ends a court fight that could have indefinitely postponed groundbreaking on the four-story building to be erected near the Capitol. It is projected to cost $90 million, with taxpayers covering all but $13 million.

If construction starts next month, the 166,000-square-foot building with an underground parking deck should be ready for use in November 2015.

Former Republican Rep. Jim Knoblach of St. Cloud was suing to stop it on the grounds that the original legislative approval was faulty. But he couldn’t convince the courts to let the case proceed without his guarantee to cover the cost of delays if he lost. An appeals court ruling had required him to post an $11 million surety bond by late May, which he said he wasn’t able to do. He asked the Supreme Court to quickly step in, prompting the order.

“The only issue Knoblach raises in his current petition is whether the court of appeals abused its discretion by ordering him to post a surety bond without findings of facts and without identifying the protected public interest,” Chief Justice Lorie Gildea wrote for the high court. “This issue does not satisfy the criteria for review in our court.”

Knoblach’s attorney, Erick Kaardal, was disappointed the case wasn’t fully aired before the high court because of a financial guarantee his client couldn’t satisfy.

“The Supreme Court denial is the end of Jim Knoblach’s heroic efforts to stop this unconstitutional spending on the state Senate office building,” Kaardal said.

The building has been a political flashpoint. Republicans say it represents misplaced priorities while Democrats say the structure is needed to relieve crowding in the Capitol, which is undergoing a massive renovation.

Knoblach is attempting to return to the Legislature after an eight-year hiatus and expects the office building will be an issue in legislative campaigns across the state.

“This is going to be the poster-child exhibit for wasteful spending as far as a lot of the public is concerned,” he said.

The crescent-shape building with a courtyard facing the Capitol will have offices for legislative staff and all 67 senators. Those lawmakers are currently split between the Capitol for the majority party and a House office building for the minority. It will also contain larger public hearing rooms and serve as the temporary chambers when the Senate’s side of the Capitol is being redone.

Details about how soon construction will move forward are still being worked out by the Department of Administration and the Department Minnesota Management and Budget, which respectively will oversee the project and sell the bonds.

Administration spokesman Curt Yoakum said officials were adjusting their timetable now that a final court ruling was in hand. He said a hoped-for July 1 start for construction “is likely not possible at this point.”

(© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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