Minority leader Representative Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, has referred to the “palatial senate office building,” when attacking Democrats over spending, but is now facing criticism for pushing through a 45% increase to the furnishings budget for the $307 million Capitol building renovation.
Brian Bakst of the Associated Press broke the story earlier this week. From the AP: “The vision was to take it back as close to 1905 as we could,” House Speaker Kurt Daudt said this week, referring to the vintage of the Capitol and a personal desire for decor that closely fits the building’s original time period. He said he was concerned that initial plans for furnishings were “at a quality level subpar to what people would have expected in a renovation of this nature.”
According to the AP “top aides for Daudt approached state officials about going beyond the original scope.” The original $4.5 million budget for furnishings was then increased by $2 million and attached to a bill just days before a vote took place in June’s special legislative session.
Daudt’s budget increase includes:
- Restoring hardwood floors in four leadership offices, rather than laying down carpet, including the House Speaker’s office
- Higher-end upholstery
- Historically compatible furniture in more spaces
- A $10,033 door with custom hardware for the Speaker’s suite
The total for the upgrades was $1.3 million, but the GOP set aside the $2 million to cover the bill if any items went over budget. Many of the improvements will be to the Speaker’s office suite, which is not open the public.
Republican party leaders in Daudt’s home district are not impressed. Peter Hiltner, a 31A party officer shared his feelings, “I feel it was the speaker’s job to cut the furniture budget instead of increasing it. It was not my intention to vote for and elect a representative from 31A that increases government spending. If I felt that way I would have voted for a DFL candidate. In 2016 we all will have another chance to attempt to elect legislators who will actually cut spending and I can’t wait.”
Oak Grove city council member Dan Denno is the chair of Daudt’s local senate district and shared his feelings about the decision. “There are things you need to do to renovate a building and there things you don’t need to do to renovate the building. We as conservatives should be on the side of making sure that all money spent– that is donated to the government by the citizens– is well spent. If I were spending my own money for a door I certainly wouldn’t spend $10,000 on the door no matter how much I was trying to recreate an earlier era.”
Daudt is widely praised for keeping a tight grip on the Republican House caucus. In a City Pages article about the $2 million increase to the furnishings budget, the paper quoted a GOP legislator as an anonymous source “so as not to run afoul of Daudt.” The source stated, “I didn’t know about this and I don’t know anyone else who did. Now we find out [Daudt] went behind everyone’s back to decorate this ceremonial office. It doesn’t make much sense.”
The cost to renovate the 1905 Capitol building has ballooned to $307 million, the original estimated cost was $273 million. The State Capitol Preservation Commission will meet next on Monday, August 24th from 3-5pm where the additional budget items proposed by Daudt’s staff will need to be approved.
UPDATE: 4:42pm Another party officer in Senate District 31, Tony Crego, has expressed his concern about the spending and Daudt’s role: “I understand the sentiment behind wanting to make the Capitol look good and historical, however I think a lot of what was requested is completely unncessary. This is a horrific job of leading by example and I’m terribly disappointed.”