ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Add this to the list of issues House legislators need to iron out: where to meet next year as long-running renovations consume the Capitol.
Republicans spent much of the 2014 campaign hammering a new Senate office building as a waste of taxpayer dollars, but state officials released information this week showing it’s the least expensive option for hosting the House in 2016 — cheaper than the estimated $500,000 or more in fixes required to stay put.
So will GOP lawmakers swallow a bitter pill and move into what they dubbed the “luxury office building” for a year?
Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt said Friday he’s open to other options but still plans to gavel in next year’s legislative session inside the Capitol. A third option is to move into another building nearby on the Capitol grounds.
He was caught off guard by the Department of Administration’s estimates that staying the House chamber would cost more than the estimated $300,000 it would cost to move into the new senate office building after its expected January opening. The department told him earlier this year it’d be a wash, he said.
“All of the plans, all of the bidding, all of the scheduling had been done with the expectation that we would be here,” he said. “It takes a big logistical effort to move us out of this chamber.”
It will be an effort to stick around, too, as the Capitol renovation enters its final and most disruptive stage. Tweaking construction plans to make room for House members and the public — extra scaffolding, temporary electricity and additional porta-potties to offset the loss of running water — would add to the cost, according to the state. What little public space remains inside the maze of drywall would be chipped away further: The gallery that rings the House floor may be closed.
House Minority Leader Paul Thissen said staying in the Capitol poses safety and public access concerns. The Minneapolis Democrat said Republicans seem to be formulating a decision based on political expedience.
“They’re doing everything they can to not go to the Senate office building because it makes it harder for them to use it in the 2016 campaign,” Thissen said. “To waste taxpayer money in order to do it, that seems wrong.”
Meanwhile, all 67 state senators will move into their brand-new office building just after its expected completion at this year’s end. Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk is prodding Daudt to join them in an auditorium for floor sessions — perhaps muting one of the GOP’s campaign points in the process.
The Cook Democrat said there’s money in the building’s roughly $90 million budget to accommodate a move. He noted the lack of running water at the Capitol and the possibility of increasing renovation costs in making a public pitch for the chambers to unite in the new space next year.
“It may be the House has wanted to stay here, but I think that’s pretty difficult,” he said from the Capitol on Friday.
(© Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)