Knoblach: Wait on lawsuit before building offices

A former St. Cloud legislator who sued to stop construction of a new legislative office building in St. Paul says legislators should wait until the lawsuit is resolved before breaking ground.

Former GOP state Rep. Jim Knoblach filed the suit in October. Knoblach says the proposed building isn’t needed, and his lawsuit alleges the manner in which it was approved by the DFL Legislature and governor is unconstitutional.

Lawmakers and Gov. Mark Dayton earlier this year approved a lease-purchase agreement for the $90 million project as part of a broad-ranging tax bill. The project includes an estimated $63 million office building to house senators and staffers and for public hearings on legislation, plus new parking structures at about $27 million.

A Jan. 22 hearing is set for the lawsuit. Knoblach says a judge will have 90 days from then to issue a ruling. He says lawmakers shouldn’t start construction until that point.

But one of the Senate supporters of the project says lawmakers should keep moving ahead with it.

“I think that the lawsuit is more of a distraction than anything else,” said Sen. Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope.

Rest says the new building is needed because an ongoing renovation of the state Capitol, which will add stairways, bathrooms, elevators and enhance its usability for people with disabilities, will eliminate a significant amount of space currently used by senators and their staff. The proposed new building will include hearing rooms much larger than those currently available, enabling more members of the public to join Senate and House hearings on hot-button topics, Rest says.

Final plans for the project could be submitted to lawmakers as soon as next month. Rules panels in the House and Senate would need to approve the plans before construction could begin.

Dayton last week publicly voiced concern with the project.

“I think the building itself is necessary,” Dayton told reporters. “But I think the price tag on it, and appearance of it, are a little high.”

Knoblach said he’s glad Dayton is watching the project but wishes he hadn’t signed the bill to let it move forward.

“I certainly appreciate that he’s now belatedly getting concerned about the cost,” Knoblach said. “I’m glad if he’s going to push back some. But again, I think there’s other alternatives to building the building.”

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Mark Sommerhauser

About Mark Sommerhauser

Greetings! I cover state and some federal politics for the St. Cloud Times. Before this, I worked the political beat at the Winona Daily News.
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