Chatter: Minnesota Capitol Not Alone In Renovation Work

A recent drive through Cheyenne, Wyo., included a familiar scene to a Minnesota Capitol insider: a Capitol building undergoing renovation.

At least eight state capitols, as well as the U.S. Capitol, are undergoing renovations or the work was completed recently.

Kansas City-based JE Dunn Construction Co. is overseeing, or at least has a hand in, a majority: Minnesota, Wyoming, Kansas, Oregon, Oklahoma and North Dakota.

The Capitol building in Oklahoma City is one of the more interesting such facilities. It was built more than 100 years ago, but the state lacked funds to add a planned dome. So the building sat without a topping until the oil-rich state added it in 2002.

Other parts of the building, however, were falling apart, much like other capitols. The state is spending $250 million for its renovation, a figure state leaders like to say is less than other states. They do not mention that much of the cost in other capitols comes in dome repair (other than states like North Dakota with domeless capitols).

Minnesota’s renovation costs nearly $310 million, while the Wyoming project (including work on an adjoining state office building) is $200 million. Work planned in Oregon would cost $337 million, while the completed Kansas project was $330 million.

The Wyoming Capitol is closed. The governor has an office across the street, but other officials are spread out in state-owned buildings and leased space.

In Minnesota, those who usually are housed in the Capitol went to other state buildings during renovation.

The Wyoming and Minnesota capitols are very different. While the Minnesota Capitol often is said to be one of the country’s most ornate, the Cowboy State one is simple with few of the flourishes seen in St. Paul.

The Minnesota Capitol is due to reopen Jan. 1, with enough work wrapping up next month so movers can begin returning furniture to the building. In recent days, people driving by could see lights in the building, finished in 1905, illuminating rooms and showing work is winding down.

However, even after the building reopens in time for the Jan. 3 legislative session start, construction work will continue through the summer of 2017 with finishing touches.

Tour guides will begin showing people around the Minnesota Capitol on Jan. 3, but will have limited access to explore the building before they begin.

Severance debate hot

Republicans say they are upset that Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton gave severance pay to three commissioners who apparently voluntarily resigned.

The heated disagreement comes at a time when Republicans want Dayton to convene a special legislative session to deal with tax cuts and funding public works projects. They have been pretty rough on Dayton, the only person who can call a special session.

Dayton said Republicans “are trying to distract the public” after the Legislature failed to pass key legislation earlier this year.

Rep. Anna Wills of Rosemount is just one who demanded Dayton explain what she called “potentially unauthorized taxpayer-funded severance payments.” She tied the issue to Dayton’s pocket veto of a tax bill that contained an expensive one-word error that the governor said only could be fixed by lawmakers.

“Even though the governor wasn’t willing to give middle-class Minnesotans and small businesses meaningful tax relief by signing our tax bill, he was more than willing to take taxpayer dollars and give his political appointees severance checks,” Wills said. “The governor’s priorities have become very clear, and they are disappointing to say the least. Minnesotans deserve a government that serves them, instead of serving itself.”

The issue arose when American Public Media investigative reporter Tom Scheck produced a story revealing that former Dayton-appointed commissioners Katie Clark Sieben, Mark Phillips and Sheila Wright received severance payments ranging from $18,000 to nearly $34,000.

Dayton told reporters that he will not discuss specifics of why he issued the payments, saying that is confidential under law, but said state law allows for up to six months of severance pay “for top-level people.”

“It was the right thing to do in each case,” he said, adding that he has seen larger checks issued by local governments.

Job fair planned

Minnesota officials plan the first state government job fair Oct. 29.

Every state agency is to be represented at the event, to be 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Minnesota Senate Building, across the street north of the state Capitol.

State government is Minnesota’s largest employer with more than 50,000 workers.

More information is at mn.gov/careers.

Stadium in 3 minutes

Minnesotans love their stadiums, and the Vikings now have a video that shows 2.5 years of work in three minutes.

The video, at http://tinyurl.com/USBankStadium, begins with the Metrodome coming down and ends with the Green Bay Packers going down in the new U.S. Bank Stadium. Thankfully, the video is limited to destruction and construction, not the dozen years the Vikings lobbied state leaders to approve the facility.