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Minnesota GOP senators don't want offices in new building

The nearly complete Minnesota Senate Building. shown in this picture taken Thursday, Nov. 12, 2015, may not house offices of Republicans next year. They refuse to move from their old offices about a block away. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

By Don Davis, Forum News Service

Minnesota Senate Republicans refuse to move into a nearly complete $90 million building they say is a waste of money.

Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said that his members see no reason a move is needed now. In a year, voters will go to the polls to pick all 67 senators, and there are bound to be changes that would result in more moves before the 2017 legislative session.

The GOP decision did not set well with Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook.

“This is exactly the kind of short-term political gamesmanship that Minnesotans have no time for," Bakk said Thursday.

Bakk said the Republican decision to stay in the State Office Building will cost the taxpayers.

"There are other state entities currently planning to move into the State Office Building space, moving these entities to that space will save thousands of taxpayer dollars," the majority leader said.

Bakk's spokeswoman said that a non-partisan legislative department hopes to move into the Senate Republicans' space from a private building. The department pays $55,614 annual rent.

That was news to Hann "and opposite to what we heard from the Department of Administration," which manages state buildings.

"As soon as Sen. Bakk lets us know who the new tenant is and when they are moving in, we will move to the new building," Hann said.

Administration Commissioner Matt Massman released a statement saying there are uses for the space Republicans now use, but he stopped short of saying that anyone has received commitments to move into it.

"There are a variety of alternative uses for the currently occupied space, including providing much needed public space during the 2016 legislative session since available space in the state Capitol will be very limited, temporary press space or moving state functions from leased to owned space, such as the Reviser of Statutes," Massman said. "We will continue to explore those contingency options as construction concludes on the new Senate office building.”

The commissioner said he learned of the Republican decision to stay put via media reports.

The new building, which includes an underground parking garage, was built to house all 67 senators. The majority party, usually Democrats for the past several decades, has had offices in the Capitol while minority party members were in the State Office Building across the street.

The Capitol is closed for a $307 million renovation, leaving Democratic senators without private offices since early summer. The timing of the new building construction was meant to give them a home for the 10-week 2016 legislative session that begins March 8.

The Senate building is almost complete, while more than a year remains on the Capitol renovation project.

Bakk had wanted some Senate leaders and committee chairman to have offices in both the Capitol and Minnesota Senate Building. He cut back the request when it came under fire, especially by Republicans, but now says that Republicans are resisting the move so they can have two offices.

"The idea of Republican senators wanting two offices is a laughable attempt to deflect criticism away from the Senate DFL’s wasteful expenditure on this building," Hann said.

The new building is across the street north of the Capitol. The State Office Building is across the street west. While the two buildings are about a block apart, if the 27 GOP senators want to avoid winter weather and use the Capitol-area tunnel system that connects those two buildings and others to the Capitol, it will be a much longer hike.

All House members' offices are in the State Office Building, as are House committee rooms.

The new building will have the only Senate committee meeting rooms until the Capitol reopens. Even then, most committee rooms will be in the Senate facility.

The largest of the new building's committee rooms will be used as a Senate chamber next year while the Capitol is mostly closed. The House, however, will spend an estimated $500,000 to reopen its chamber for the 2016 session.

The House chamber will be the only part of the Capitol open next year, and the Capitol will have no running water or restrooms. Galleries used by the public to watch House sessions will be closed.