By Don Davis
A former Minnesota House member who headed the public works committee is taking the state to court seeking to prevent construction of a new Senate office building.
Former Rep. Jim Knoblach, R-St. Cloud, announced today that he is filing the suit because the measure lawmakers passed in May funding the building violated a constitutional provision requiring each bill to contain only one subject.
The $90 million for the office building and Capitol-area parking facilities was contained in a tax bill that included more than $2 billion in tax increases. Knoblach said there is no better example of a single-subject violation than combining construction spending and tax revenues.
“It was buried deep in the tax bill and passed on the chaotic last day of session,” Knoblach said.
Knoblach’s attorney, Erick Kaardal of Minneapolis, pointed to a couple of recent court decisions that overturned provisions judges thought violated the single-subject requirement. However, court insiders say the trend of Minnesota judges has been to let the Legislature define the single-subject issue.
Kaardal said he thinks the case could be decided in district court within half a year, which Knoblach said would allow legislators to pass a new tax bill that does not violate the state Constitution in their session next year.
While Knoblach said he is not asking the courts to overturn other parts of the tax bill, he said judges could do that. If that happens, tax increases and a major Mayo Medical Center project in Rochester could be stopped.
The office building still is in the planning stage, and is set to be completed in 2015. It would house some Senate offices, while others would remain in the Capitol building. Now, the majority party (currently Democrats) has Capitol offices, while the minority party is housed in the State Office Building across the street.
The new building is to be built across University Avenue to the north of the Capitol, closer than the State Office Building.
It is to include an inside parking ramp and meeting rooms, as well as offices.
Timing for building the facility is tied to a $270 million Capitol renovation project. Planners hope the building can be occupied in 2015, so senators and staffers can move out of the Capitol, making way for work on their areas.
Many lawmakers were surprised to learn about the Senate building plans, which surfaced near the end of the legislative session in May. The building had received little discussion.