A former Republican state representative from St. Cloud is going to court to try to stop the construction of a new $90 million Senate office project near the Minnesota Capitol.
Jim Knoblach, who’s been out of the Legislature nearly seven years, announced his lawsuit today at a news conference. He described the project as wasteful and unnecessary.
“We do not need to spend $90 million on a building for a few dozen senators and staff who are only going to be here a few months a year,” Knoblach said.
DFL lawmakers included $3 million in planning money for the project in the omnibus tax bill they passed last session. They also authorized a lease-purchase agreement and the use of revenue bonds to build it. But Knoblach contends the provision violates the single-subject rule for laws, which is called for in the state constitution. He was particularly critical of the DFL Senate leaders who backed the measure.
“I can’t believe that they would potentially jeopardize the entire tax bill because of their desire to build this new building,” he said. “But in fact, by putting this building in the tax bill, that is exactly what they are doing.”
Knoblach’s attorney, Erick Kaardal, also said a judge could decide to take down the entire tax bill.
“Will Gov. Dayton’s tax increases be thrown out too?,” Kaardal asked. “I think everyone would agree that they should be thrown out so the Legislature knows the courts are serious about enforcing this provision.”
The lawsuit filed in Ramsey County District Court names DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and Department of Administration Commissioner Spencer Cronk as defendants. A spokesman for the governor said they just received the lawsuit, and legal counsel was reviewing it.
Knoblach had been considering a run for Congress next year in the 6th district. But he said he recently decided against entering that contest.
UPDATE: Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, issued a statement defending the legislation and the project.
“This lawsuit does not contain any legitimate concerns. The legislation authorizing construction of the new legislative building adjacent to the Capitol was included in the public finance section of the tax bill. Public finance provisions have been an established component of tax bills for decades.
This legislation is consistent with authorizing legislation for similar construction projects that have been completed under the supervision of the Minnesota Department of Administration. Moreover, it was vetted by legislative counsel and public finance experts at Minnesota Management and Budget and passed by both bodies of the legislature before being signed into law by the Governor.
I fear the only result of this suit will be the waste of taxpayer resources on legal expenses and the potential costs associated with delaying the construction project.
Nevertheless, I remain encouraged by the bi-partisan effort taking place to design and deliver a modern legislative building that will enhance Minnesota’s tradition of public participation in government.”
Here is a project timetable provided by the state Dept. of Administration:
- Mortenson Construction and BWBR began in September as the construction and design firms for the project.
- Currently, the team is working through the schematic design process (preliminary project design) with all stakeholders, which should be completed by late December.
- The House and Senate Rules Committees must approve the plans, which would likely occur in January.
- Groundbreaking would occur as early as late-February or early March.
- Substantial completion of the project is set for June 2015.
Matt Swenson, the governor’s press secretary, released this statement:
“Former Representative Knoblach’s lawsuit names Governor Dayton “in his official capacity,” because, as the complaint states, Governor Dayton’s role was the enactment of H.F. 677. The issue the suit raises is whether the legislature’s inclusion of funding for a new Senate Office Building in its 2013 Omnibus Tax Bill was constitutional. Now that a lawsuit has been filed, this question will be properly decided by the Judicial Branch.”