Wasteful Statehouse Spending
By Karl Peterjohn, Executive Director, Kansas Taxpayers Network
Wasteful spending at the Kansas statehouse is nothing new. What is new is the wasteful spending on the Kansas statehouse. This building still has the ugly look of a construction site with a soaring price tag. In 2007 a bipartisan group of legislative moderates are intent on continuing this unlimited statehouse spending spree.
When the legislature enacted SB 660 in 2000 authorizing $40 million in bond funding for the statehouse remodel that did not seem too terribly out of line. That had followed six figure appropriations for remodeling the legislative chambers that had started the remodeling process at the statehouse. There are just over 317,000 square feet in the Kansas statehouse. That means the initial cost of $126 per square foot is not out of line with new commercial or residential construction costs.
What a difference a few years make. The statehouse remains disheveled with parts of the building closed off, a few areas completed, other untouched, and a final price tag that is nowhere to be found. Supposedly, three of the five phases of this remodeling project have been finished but the final result is still at least four years away.
The price tag for the three phases is currently estimated at $175 million (or about $550 per square foot with lots of feet remaining to be remodeled) and might even top $300 million. The age and condition of the building is the excuse for the growing cost overruns in the mainstream press reports.
During the budget debate in the 2007 legislature Sen. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, proposed an amendment requiring the Department of Administration to prepare a report on the costs of the capitol renovation project as part of the budget bill debate. This idea was rejected on a 17-19 vote with prominent “moderates” including the legislative leadership of both parties in the senate opposing this effort at fiscal accountability. In Kansas “moderates” are spelled “l-i-b-e-r-a-l”.
Psst. That’s a statehouse secret you aren’t authorized to know.
An unsuccessful effort to have legislative post audit examine state house spending was made by Rep. Peggy Mast, R-Hamilton, and Sen. Chris Steineger, D-Kansas City, during this session. A number of legislators are justifiably nervous over the soaring costs since there are a limited number of improvements that are visible in the few areas that are finished with an already soaring bill for taxpayers.
Other states that have faced old statehouse buildings have made a number of changes. Missouri has been through six statehouses in its 186 years as a state. In Florida a brand new statehouse is located near the old, historic statehouse in Tallahassee. Arkansas also has two statehouses. Kansans are grossly overspending and will only have a single remodeled statehouse to show for spending that could easily top $300 million by the time the remodeling is completed sometime in the next decade. We could have had a brand new and larger building at a fraction of what this remodel is costing.
The total cost is now rapidly approaching $1,000 per square foot and this figure should alarm Kansans. Sen. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, said, “The cost for this project is soaring.” He also warned taxpayers, “You can’t go over budget if you have no budget.”
When state’s General Fund budget is growing 10.4% next year and topping $6 billion for the first time next year, when an activist Kansas Supreme Court orders a complacent majority of legislators and a compliant governor into an $850 million school spending spree that started a couple of years ago, what’s the big deal over a few hundred million for the statehouse remodel?
Would you spend close somewhere between $500 to a $1,000 per square foot in building your business or home? Hey, it’s only your tax dollars. And there are several other state office buildings across the street from the statehouse that are now being prepared for remodeling once the statehouse work gets finished.