House Capital Investment Committee approves bonding bill

The House Capital Investment Committee today (March 20) approved $221 million bonding bill for a multiyear renovation of the century-old State Capitol.

“It’s time to commit the State of Minnesota to restoring the State Capitol,” said House Capital Investment Committee Chairman Larry Howes, R-Walker.

Democratic members of the capital investment committee, while praising the restoration effort, argued that Howes was shrinking the size of the second bonding bill that he was also proposing in order to fund the first.

In addition to the $221 million bill, Howes is also proposing a $280 million bonding bill containing a variety of area projects.

These includes $5 million for the Minnesota Zoo dolphin tank upgrade, funding for a water project at Stillwater Prison, $375,000 for an air system at the National Sports Center in Blaine.

But the bill contains no funding for the Camp Ripley education center, Southwest Corridor light rail, a security fence at Shakopee’s women’s prison, nor a handful of community college projects that found favor in Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton proposed $775 million bonding bill.

“That’s the extent of my authority,” said Howes when questioned about the sizes of the bills.

The reason he proposed two bills, Howes explained, was he felt it would be easier to pass the restoration bill alone than if all the bonding were lumped together in a single bill.

“I don’t want them caught together,” said Howes of the two bills, speaking after the hearing.

Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover, argued that rather than undersized, the two bonding bills, considering that a $500 million bonding bill was passed last year, were substantial.

“It’s a pretty sizeable amount folks to put on the state’s credit card,” said Scott.

Howes indicated that he planned a vote in committee on Wednesday (March 21) on the second bill — he suspects some Republican committee members could oppose it.

As for the restoration funding, the $221 million in bonding is doled out in smaller amounts over several years.

Howes believes the Capitol restoration, which will involve finding outside space for Capitol occupants, can be completed without closing the House or Senate chambers.

But Howes, who works in the building trades, explained it’s always risky to tear into old structures.

“You really don’t know what you’ll find once you start,” he said.

One concern Scott expressed was the impact of the Central Corridor light rail line proposed to run directly past the State Capitol on University Avenue.

Scott questioned whether vibrations from the passage of 20-ton light rail passenger trains could damage the building.

Department of Administration official Wayne Waslaski explained that architect Cass Gilbert in designing the State Capitol did a good job.

Structurally, the State Capitol is “extremely sound,” he said.

Still, lawmakers expressed concern that it be determined first before restoration is underway at the State Capitol that passage of the light rail trains will not damage the building.

According to Waslaski, these determinations are be made by the Met Council.

Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, said she would have preferred that the light rail line had taken an alternative route to downtown St. Paul.

Having the line go by the State Capitol on University Avenue will require substantial digging outside of the Capitol in order to decrease the grade of a hill, she explained.

“We were quite frankly stonewalled by the Met Council,” said Rep. Lyndon Carlson, DFL-Crystal, of attempts at convincing the council to

pick an alternative route.

The State Capitol was built for $4.5 million.

It’s estimated the building is currently worth about $400 million.

In discussing his $280 million bill, Howes indicated that he included no funding  for invasive species control out of frustration.

They included $16 million towards upgrading the Coon Rapids Dam on the Mississippi River in the last bonding bill and the Department of Natural Resources hasn’t done anything yet, Howes explained.

Howes further spoke of having to make tough decisions on the Camp Ripley education center, and on the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter and the proposed expansion of the Minnesota Sex Offender Program facility on the St. Peter hospital campus

The latter two projects were respectively funded at $40 million and $1.7 million in Dayton’s bonding bill.

They were not funded at all in the House Republican bonding bill.

Senate Republicans have yet to bring forth a bonding bill.

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