A new $90 million Minnesota Senate office building that escaped a rigorous public vetting process before its approval last year should be slowed or halted until it can be reviewed by the Legislature and garner public support.
The project was, according to a news report in the Star Tribune, “included in the tax bill late in the session with little debate.” The project was not vetted by the House Capital Investment committee, a public process for vetting the vast majority of state bonding projects. Chair Alice Hausman told the Star Tribune she was frustrated by this process and suggested that some Capitol projects seem to get special treatment. She said: “Some have gone to the head of the line.”
Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk defended the way the bill was approved in a statement to Minnesota Public Radio this fall after former Republican legislator Jim Knoblach filed suit challenging the constitutionality of the maneuver. Bakk said it went through the typical process for such projects, which include being vetted by legislative counsel and the public finance experts at the Minnesota Office of Management and Budget.
He said other projects have been included in the public finance provisions of the tax bill over the years and this was consistent with that. The project will be funded by revenue bonds versus typical general obligation bonds that would come out of the bonding committee.
Bakk may be right on the technical legality of including the project in the tax bill, but he should consider the perception among taxpayers that the process does not seem consistent with sound public scrutiny.
This sleight of hand legislative maneuver came at a time when dozens of projects around the state — some more worthy than a new office building — were rejected because there wasn’t enough money.
The approval of what appears to be a pet project of Senate leadership erodes credibility of the bonding process and the public finance process. The proposed new Senate building should have to go through the bonding committee like other projects.