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Archive for Saturday, December 13, 2008

Capitol on hold

Legislators made the difficult but right call in holding off on additional funding for renovation of the state Capitol building.

December 13, 2008

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Kansas legislators realized how bad it would look to move forward with millions of dollars worth of additional renovations at the state Capitol at the same time they had to announce that there wasn’t enough money in the state treasury to make scheduled December payments to Kansas public schools.

The restoration of the building is attractive and desirable. It has been a huge success. The beauty of the building being restored, and new, highly attractive and much-needed space has been created. It is hoped the work can be completed at some point — the sooner, the better — but now, when the state is facing huge budget shortfalls, is not the time. When the state can’t meet basic obligations to its public schools and has ordered cuts that will create new waiting lists for services to the elderly and disabled, putting the capitol renovations on hold is the right decision.

The project’s contractor argued that the work on a new visitor center and renovation of the north wing should move ahead because prices for such materials as copper and steel have moderated. House Minority Leader Dennis McKinney also pointed out that interest rates are low and the project creates needed jobs in the state. Also, craftsmen specializing in restoration of historical buildings are on the scene, and the cost of restarting the project at a later date is sure to be considerably higher.

Those arguments have validity, but if the state wants to create jobs and take advantage of lower construction costs, there are other projects that many people would consider more essential to the state. For instance, among the cuts already recommended by the state budget office are $15 million for deferred maintenance projects at state universities and another $15 million to expand Kansas University’s pharmacy school. Retaining funding for those projects probably would provide more immediate benefit for the state and its economy than the capitol renovations.

Some Kansans, and even some state legislators, already had expressed the opinion that the capitol renovation project had grown financially out of control. Whether or not the cost of the project is justified, at least some state lawmakers understand that the state can’t afford those expenditures when it is facing so many other pressing needs.

“It’s very bad to go ahead and bid additional renovation projects at the state Capitol at the same time you’re talking about having to reduce education spending and reduce Medicaid,” House Speaker Melvin Neufeld said last week. “Symbolically, it’s just an impossible situation you can’t really justify.”

We and many other Kansans agree. Hopefully, it won’t be long before the state can both meet its other obligations and continue the Capitol project, but now simply isn’t the time.

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