Topeka Frustration with the rising cost of renovating the Statehouse spilled into the Senate's debate Tuesday on the budget, with some members trying unsuccessfully to suspend the $172 million project.
Conservative Republicans and some Democrats wanted to force the Department of Administration to renegotiate architectural and construction contracts, lock in a completion date and limit what the state will spend. Cost estimates have grown by $37 million from the original estimate and are expected to rise more, and the work will last six months longer than initially expected.
Sen. Peggy Palmer offered an amendment to a proposed $12.2 billion budget to prohibit the state from spending any money on the project until contracts are renegotiated and a spending limit set.
"It is irresponsible for us as legislators not to do something about it," said Palmer, R-Augusta. "You don't build a house this way."
But the vote was 21-18 against Palmer's amendment.
Other senators said early estimates of renovation costs were soft because workers couldn't anticipate all the problems they'd find, with parts of the building more than 130 years old. Also, they said, all the issues Palmer raised have been discussed in open meetings of a special restoration committee.
Barry Greis, the Statehouse architect, said few of the Statehouse's design drawings remained, meaning workers couldn't predict what they would find when opening up ceilings or walls. He also noted that legislators wanted to keep the building open and three-quarters occupied during the restoration.
Greis said the goal is to make the Statehouse a modern workplace but return it to looking as "the forefathers had designed and funded."
Senators gave first-round approval to three bills containing most of state government's spending for the fiscal year beginning July 1. Senators planned to take final action on the measures today.
The debate Tuesday gave senators a chance to discuss a wide variety of policy issues, including social services, reviewing state employees' use of government-issued credit cards and preventing state employees from using tax dollars to purchase alcohol.
Another issue was a backlog of building repairs on state university campuses, estimated by the state Board of Regents at $663 million.
Sen. Jim Barnett, R-Emporia, proposed an amendment to require universities to set aside 2.5 percent of their operating budgets for maintenance in fiscal 2009 and increase the amount in future years. But the vote was 23-16 against it, after some senators noted it wouldn't give the universities additional funds, only require them to trim money from their operations.
"The universities are already running on a tight budget," said Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dwayne Umbarger, R-Thayer.
GOP leaders expected all three bills to pass on a final vote today.
Final versions of the budget bills will be written by House and Senate negotiators, and legislative leaders hope to pass them before lawmakers begin their spring break on April 4. Then, lawmakers will adopt one final budget bill after they return April 25 to wrap up their business for the year.
When legislators adjourn, the next budget is likely to be about $12.4 billion, roughly the same size at the current one, though there will be big shifts in funding. The budget for fiscal 2008 will contain an increase in spending on public schools, in keeping with a plan approved last year, while spending on highway projects, which fluctuates from year to year, is expected to drop by about 24 percent.