Updated: 10/31/2013 4:44 PM KSTP.com By: Jennie Olson
Former Republican lawmaker Jim Knoblach.
A former Republican state representative sued Gov. Mark Dayton and the state of Minnesota on Thursday in an attempt to block the construction of a $90 million office building for the state Senate.
"To me this is such a ridiculous case of a glaring waste of money," said Jim Knoblach, a St. Cloud businessman who served in the state House from 1995 to 2006.
But Knoblach's lawsuit does not address whether the new building is a worthwhile use of taxpayer dollars. Rather, it claims the Legislature's Democratic majority violated the state Constitution by authorizing its construction in the tax bill, which isn't a typical means of approving large building projects.
Knoblach's attorney, Erick Kaardal, said he would seek an injunction to block Dayton administration officials from spending money on the project while the lawsuit plays out.
The building itself is estimated to cost $63 million, with another roughly $27 million meant for two parking structures that would also serve other Capitol campus tenants. Planned just north of the Capitol, the building is on a tight construction timeline that would have it done by 2015. A Department of Administration spokesman said the state has already hired construction and design firms, and plans to break ground February or March.
Offices for the state's 67 senators currently are split between the Capitol and an adjacent office building; the new building would consolidate most under one roof and add larger hearing rooms that could accommodate more citizens when high-interest bills come before the Legislature.
Matt Swenson, a spokesman for Dayton, said the governor's role was limited to signing the legislation and that the decision now rests with a judge. Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, who championed the project, said previous state building projects were financed similarly and that legislative counsel vetted the financing for this project.
"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 project, Bakk said.
Knoblach, who owns a real estate business, once chaired the House committee that approves borrowing for state construction projects. Those bills require a super majority vote to pass, while the tax bill requires only a majority.
Kaardal said there have been a number of lawsuits over the years seeking to enforce a constitutional provision that legislative bills should be restricted to a single subject.
Knoblach said he only wants the office building stripped from the tax bill, but acknowledged a judge could decide to throw out the entire thing. That would undo this year's income tax increases on upper income earners, and a state subsidy of up to $525 million to aid in a multibillion dollar Mayo Clinic plan to grow the city of Rochester.
Knoblach said if that happened, the Legislature would have time next year to again pass other portions of the bill.
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