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Archive for Monday, December 7, 2009

Statehouse renovation questioned as cuts continue

December 7, 2009

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Is there anything wrong with this picture? While the state has closed prisons, cut funding to schools, universities, services to Kansans with disabilities, and health care, it continues full-speed-ahead with a $285 million renovation of the Capitol.

New chairs and furniture await placement in refurbished meeting rooms in the Kansas Capitol. A $285 million restoration of the Statehouse is continuing despite heavy budget cuts elsewhere.

New chairs and furniture await placement in refurbished meeting rooms in the Kansas Capitol. A $285 million restoration of the Statehouse is continuing despite heavy budget cuts elsewhere.

Because I work daily in the Capitol, I’ve become accustomed to maneuvering around the construction, which has been going on for approximately nine years. For full disclosure’s sake, the Statehouse project has included construction of a new media area, which includes an office that I occupy (furniture provided by the Lawrence Journal-World). This will sound self-serving, but I think the public benefits from having a permanent media presence in the Capitol, as also was the case before the renovation project.

Sometimes, though, walking through the Capitol halls, it hits you that this massive, expensive project is going on at the same time Kansans are feeling great financial pain.

Last week was one of those times.

Filing cabinets await placement in new underground office wing for legislators in Statehouse. The state has been hit hard by budget cuts but the $285 million Statehouse renovation continues.

Filing cabinets await placement in new underground office wing for legislators in Statehouse. The state has been hit hard by budget cuts but the $285 million Statehouse renovation continues.

In preparation for the 2010 legislative session, which starts Jan. 11, a new underground wing of offices has been completed. Last week, there was a lot of rearranging going on to move members of our part-time Legislature into new or temporary offices, while the construction effort advances to the next phase.

In the hallways were mountains of boxes containing new desks and tables, file cabinets, chairs wrapped in plastic, and heavy wooded benches. Nice stuff.

Also last week, the Kansas Health Policy Authority initiated more cuts to meet Gov. Mark Parkinson’s budget-balancing plan. These cuts mean that instead of 15,000 applications backed up for Medicaid services, there will soon be a backlog of 30,000 applications. And, doctors must take a 10 percent cut in reimbursement for Medicaid services.

Even with these cuts, you can bet that given the animosity that some legislators have for the KHPA, every penny that agency receives, or doesn’t, will be highly scrutinized.

And yet, the Statehouse restoration continues with the full blessing of the Legislature’s leadership.

Only a few lawmakers have raised a ruckus over the cost of the work. Supporters of the project say the building obviously needed repair, and once the work’s finished it will be an awesome facility that the public will enjoy.

There’s no doubt about that.

And those who support the restoration point out that this is precisely the time — when construction costs have gone down — to continue with the project.

During these difficult economic times, however, it’s sometimes hard to reconcile the Legislature writing checks for that project, while using their budget knives on programs that benefit their constituents who are suffering.

Comments

situveux1 4 years, 4 months ago

It's an absolute atrocity that we're spending $285 million on a project that was supposed to cost almost half that to begin with and at the same time cutting money to disabled and helpless citizens.

The idea we should keep spending because construction costs are low is the same logic my wife uses when she wants to buy a $100 item for half off when we have $25 in the bank.

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Chexgal 4 years, 4 months ago

Thank you for writing this story. I've been appalled for years at how little scrutiny the Statehouse renovation has garnered, despite the fact the project has far exceeded its initial budget. I "get it" that the Statehouse is an important landmark in the state and must be preserved. But I thought the original game plan was to restore the building to its historical grandeur. Were the globes on the initial fixtures that adorned the Senate chamber really made of lead crystal and manufactured in the same facility as Waterford Crystal??! And each etched with 34 stars to signify that KS was the 34th state admitted to the union?! I don't THINK SO!!!!! Those globes alone (how many are there on EACH fixture?) must have cost a fortune!! Same with the carpet in the Senate chamber, which I seem to recall having heard was special ordered and milled in Turkey and shipped in for the project, or something like that! Good GRIEF! The opulence integrated into the project is so over-the-top it's completely embarrassing. Some state agencies occupy crumbling buildings - literally - and programs to ensure public safety and welfare have been substantially cut or compromised due to the significant budget cuts made necessary by the State's (and nation's) economic woes. The fact that the Statehouse renovation is continuing, full-throttle ahead and with seemingly no limit to the budget for the project, in the midst of all this, is shocking to the conscience. Please dig into this further and report the DETAILS regarding what money has been spent on so far, and what's yet intended. An itemized listing of expenditures would be great. The public deserves to know!!!!!

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Ray Parker 4 years, 4 months ago

So who's watching out for the inevitable fraud, waste, and sticky fingered abuse of government contracts, as our tax money is hauled out in bales?

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Steven Gaudreau 4 years, 4 months ago

The only upside to the Capital project is that one of our very own architects in Lawrence won the bid with a payday of $30,000,000.00.

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honestone 4 years, 4 months ago

It is very simple really... Just like USD 497... It's different color money... So what if we cut programs or didn't give our state employee raises... Look at our beautiful building/football fields that we get to play in

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jaycat 4 years, 4 months ago

So seriously, why did they dig a huge hole on the NW side of the building. Last week they poured concrete walls. Is this another addition like the bomb shelter, I mean parking garage.

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threetoedsloth 4 years, 4 months ago

MyName- Personally, I'd like to know if any of the possibilities you suggested are the correct ones. Seems to me if you're requiring Medicaid eligible people or the people treating them to either write to the KHPA or visit it in person to confirm eligibility, you're coming pretty close to denying people coverage anyway.

And you're right, you don't need Inspector Clouseau (or is that Jaque Cousteau?) to solve this mystery, just simply one reporter asking a former reporter a few tough questions and not taking on faith - as your post seems to - that the KHPA has exhausted other means that would be less damaging to their clientele.

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MyName 4 years, 4 months ago

@threetoedsloth:

Maybe they cut the call center because they'd run out of things that you mentioned to cut. Or else because those items wouldn't add up to the amount needed. Or maybe it's because they decided it was better to cut out the call center than to leave a hundred sick people without medical care.

It's not like you need Jacques Clouseau to figure this one out. Any of the above reasons seem acceptable to me.

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jimmyspeachbaskets 4 years, 4 months ago

First, it is not self-serving to have a media presence at the Capitol. It is the fundamental premise a representative deomocracy is based on. Constituents need to know what their elected officials are doing.

Secondly, to halt the renovation project at this time would be foolish. Too much work and cost has gone into it to be stopped and would leave many areas un-finished. With construction pricing being depressed, now is also the time to be purchasing construction services. To push it off and wait any longer would incur higher construction costs at a time when the State's budget woes won't be any different than they are today.

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avoice 4 years, 4 months ago

This project speeds ahead under the same "logic" that allows new school buildings and athletic fields/facilities to be constructed while kids are crowded into classrooms and teachers are laid off. It seems we're far more concerned with how things look on the outside than whether there is any real substance to what we are trying to accomplish. Well, except when it comes to road maintenance. We'd rather have a lot of pretty buildings than a lot of good roads.

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meggers 4 years, 4 months ago

Suspend the renovation until we can afford it.

In addition, I vote that the governor, his appointees, and all Kansas state legislators take a 10% cut in salary. Then maybe we can talk about 'shared sacrifice' with a straight face.

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macon47 4 years, 4 months ago

this is the same math usd497 used when they "found" the money for the two sports arenas it comes out of another fund and doesnt really count, dont look at the man behind the curtain, he is only picking your pocket

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TomJoad1 4 years, 4 months ago

IT is Egypt-onomics. There was full employment to build the pyramids.

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sweetiepie 4 years, 4 months ago

threetoedsloth: Why don't you ask your former fellow journalist Peter Hancock at the KHPA (or heaven forbid, investigate) why they chose a high-profile decision like making Medicaid recipients and providers jump through more hoops for answers rather than cutting staff, travel, etc.???

I agree. I think that would be an article worth reading.

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threetoedsloth 4 years, 4 months ago

KHPA got exactly what they wanted from you with their decision to "solve" their budget cut with the assinie ending of the Medicaid call center. They owe you a thank you note. You highlight it against capitol renovation (for which you disclose you've ALREADY benefitted), but don't give us any sense of how easy/difficult/costly it would be to simply "suspend" the capitol project.

Why don't you ask your former fellow journalist Peter Hancock at the KHPA (or heaven forbid, investigate) why they chose a high-profile decision like making Medicaid recipients and providers jump through more hoops for answers rather than cutting staff, travel, etc.???

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Stuart Evans 4 years, 4 months ago

It is an historical building and should be preserved. additionally, you can use the Obama math to determine that over 4 trillion jobs have been saved or created as a result of that project.

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jaycat 4 years, 4 months ago

So what is the new hole in the ground on the NW corner suppose to be?

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getreal 4 years, 4 months ago

The building absolutely did need repair, just as the disabled need services, kids need an education and roads need maintenance. I guess we haven't all "shared the pain," during the budget cuts. Legislators shoud have to answer for the ability to continue this project while waiting lists mount and class sizes increase.

And no it isn't self-serving to think the press should have a presence in the statehouse. I know people in K.C. who read the LJWorld because it does such an excellent job of covering state politics.

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