A last-ditch effort by Republican legislators to halt the start of an anticipated State Office Building renovation project that could end up costing taxpayers nearly $730 million fell short in a House committee meeting on Wednesday.
The project is slated to begin next month in the 290,000-square-foot complex where the 134-member House of Representatives conducts most of its work five months out of the year.
Along with a slew of extensive upgrades, a 120,000-square-foot expansion of the State Office Building (SOB) is also planned. Most of the work won’t begin until after the 2024 legislative session concludes. Renovation is expected to wrap up in 2026. The SOB is also home to the office of Secretary of State, the Legislative Reference Library and Legislative Budget Office. It sits across the street from the State Capitol, which received an extensive renovation completed in 2017 that totaled $310 million.
While the full legislature won’t begin its new session until Feb. 12, a House Rules and Legislative Administration Committee met Wednesday to conduct its regular business. That’s where Rep. Kristin Robbins, R-Maple Grove, offered a motion that would have officially rescinded the DFL-controlled House’s approval of the State Office Building renovation project one year ago.
Robbins said her reasons for wanting to halt the project are straight forward. She said Wednesday she wants members of the House to re-evaluate the scope of the project and vet alternatives to many of the planned upgrades to bring the project costs down.
“… I have been incredibly frustrated by the process that has led to us spending $500 million, plus an additional $230 million on interest … that’s $730 million, members, on renovation of this building,” Robbins said.
“I don’t disagree there is need to update the HVAC system, and technology and a few other things. But the scope and scale of this project, which was approved in a ‘lame duck’ rules committee session last year, that now has encumbered the taxpayers with $730 million for one building, is unconscionable.”
House Majority Leader Jamie Long, DFL-Minneapolis, quickly ruled Robbins’ motion as “out of order,” as he said it was not part of the agenda prior to the start of the meeting. Long chairs the House Rules Committee and sets the agendas.
Robbins then appealed Long’s ruling. Republicans present at the committee voted in support of Robbins’ appeal but were outnumbered by their DFL committee colleagues, which prevented any debate over the project from taking place in the last House Rules meeting before the project is slated to begin.
Long and House Minority Leader Lisa Demuth, R-Cold Spring, verbally sparred over whether a pre-filing requirement was necessary to vote on Robbins’ motion.
“We are full members of this committee, and there is no pre-filing requirement, so a very serious effort here to have a conversation about spending $730 million of taxpayer money is just ruled out of order because you don’t like it?” Robbins said to Long following his ruling.
Project approved on party-line vote last December
Last December, officials with the Department of Administration and ranking DFL House members supporting the project were quoting the total cost at more than $450 million. The size and scope of the renovation drew scrutiny from a handful of Republicans in the House Rules Committee, several of whom objected to the nearly half-billion dollar price tag. Despite those complaints, the committee approved the resolution to move forward on a party-line voice vote. Former House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler has been regarded as the legislative architect of the project. Winkler defended its size and scope during a Dec. 22, 2022 meeting of the committee where it was approved.
Just a few weeks ago the Office of Minnesota Management and Budget sent a letter to House Minority Leader Demuth that confirmed the interest rate of the loan the state has taken out for the State Office Building renovation could potentially increase the costs to $730 million, after interest accrues over a 20-year period.
“The interest alone — $275 million — on Democrats’ luxury office building is almost as much as was spent on the entire renovation of the Minnesota Capitol,” Demuth said in a statement earlier this month. “That is fiscal insanity.”
“It did not have to be this way — there were alternative, less costly options to renovating the State Office Building. But Democrats refused to consider anything less than their extravagant plans. Minnesotans should not be on the hook for a $730 million office building for 134 politicians. This is beyond irresponsible.”
The State Office Building renovation follows a $310 million renovation of the Capitol building across the street. That project was completed in 2017 after an extensive rehabilitation that stretched over four years, where at times, meeting spaces for legislators were impacted and shifted around. Just a year prior, in 2016, a newly constructed Senate Office Building, which sits across the street to the north of the State Capitol, was completed for $90 million.
“There are many other lower cost options we could be doing that would support the work of the House which we absolutely need to do,” Robbins said Wednesday, “but would not encumber the taxpayers with $730 million.”
Hank Long is a journalism and communications professional whose writing career includes coverage of the Minnesota legislature, city and county governments and the commercial real estate industry. Hank received his undergraduate degree at the University of Minnesota, where he studied journalism, and his law degree at the University of St. Thomas. The Minnesota native lives in the Twin Cities with his wife and four children. His dream is to be around when the Vikings win the Super Bowl.