Minnesota’s lawmakers need a space

The state Legislature should approve plans to build a new Senate office building.

Ronald Dixon

Apart from the recent minimum wage hike and anti-bullying legislation, the proposal to build a new Senate office building remains one of the most contentious issues in the Minnesota Legislature.

Republicans have attacked the plan as a waste of money. If you ask a Minnesotan who reads the news, they are likely to be against it as well, arguing that they are still suffering from the lack of a strong economic recovery.

Apart from the political motivations of Republicans to attack this “wasteful spending” proposal — perhaps because Gov. Mark Dayton is up for re-election in November — concerns over appropriations are completely justified. However, when analyzing the facts surrounding the proposal, I find that the project is not only in the best interest of our local lawmakers, but it is beneficial to Minnesotans as well.

First, we should ask the rudimentary question: Why do our senators need new office space in the first place? Well, a sizable number of senators have their offices directly in the Capitol, and renovations will displace much of their office space, thereby necessitating a new location for senators to work and meet constituents.

This leaves Minnesotans and lawmakers with a few options. The Legislature could plan a new building, as some lawmakers have proposed to do. The Senate Rules and Administration Committee recently approved the proposal. Lawmakers could also rent office space across the Twin Cities.

The latter, unfortunately, would present a multitude of problems.

First, it would simply cost more money. Having one building would require less spending than purchasing office space from several venues in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Also, we must consider legislative access. If a constituent wished to speak to their representative and senator, should they have to travel from one point in the metro to another in order to meet with a number of politicians? If a group of advocates wanted to speak with dozens of government officials, it would require far more coordination than the endeavor already does, given the busy schedules of each lawmaker. Having offices spread out across the Twin Cities would only exacerbate these scheduling dilemmas, and it would therefore decrease citizens’ access to lawmakers.

Many University students intern at the Capitol during the legislative session, and a sizable portion of them lack vehicles, so it would be very arduous for them to travel between the Capitol building, their legislator’s office and the offices of other lawmakers and employees.

Finally, should we have a state government that lacks infrastructural integrity? What does it say about how we value our local politicians if they must work in obscure locations across the metro, instead of on Capitol grounds?

Unfortunately, many citizens are still going to perceive this proposal as a lavish waste of taxpayer dollars. Let us try to inform them of the benefits of the building and critique local Republicans for their partisan attacks.

While a new building may seem like a sizable direct cost to residents, Minnesotans have a lot more to lose from a lack of government access and organization. We build gigantic stadiums for our sports teams — can we not allow our lawmakers a fraction of that respect?