GOP led push for pricier furnishings through remodel

Published 10:43 am Thursday, August 20, 2015

ST. PAUL — In restoring Minnesota’s Capitol to its old glory, renovators planned to spend $4.5 million on furniture and decorative finishing touches on the inside.

That was until House Republicans quietly pushed to bump up the furnishings allocation by $2 million, or 45 percent. According to interviews and internal Department of Administration documents reviewed by The Associated Press, the extra money is intended to accommodate historically compatible furniture in more spaces, higher-end upholstery, refinished hardwood flooring rather than carpet in leadership offices and even a $10,000 door on the House speaker’s Capitol suite.

“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.”

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Even though the Senate’s top Democrat signed off on the spending and the Legislature later approved it, the Capitol Preservation Commission must still endorse the purchases. The discussion could start Monday when the panel meets to review the pace of the renovation project and authorize the next construction phases.

And while the line-item amount is small when weighed against the $300 million-plus cost for the total restoration, the add-on spending is opening Daudt and his Republican colleagues to claims of hypocrisy. On their way to a House majority in the 2014 election, Republicans pounded on Democrats during the campaign about posh office spending while they were in charge, most notably their authorization of a $90 million Senate Office Building.