Kansas Statehouse Remodeling Bill Keeps Soaring

Published August 1, 2007

Wasteful spending at the Kansas statehouse is nothing new, but wasteful spending on the statehouse is causing controversy.

The building still has the ugly look of a construction site–one with a soaring price tag. In May a bipartisan group of legislators agreed to continue the unlimited spending spree.

In 2000, when the Kansas Legislature enacted Senate Bill 660 authorizing $40 million in bond funding for the statehouse remodeling, that did not seem terribly out of line.

There are just more than 317,000 square feet in the Kansas statehouse. That put the initial remodeling cost at $126 per square foot, in line with new commercial or residential construction costs.

Backlogs, Price Surges

What a difference a few years make! Parts of the statehouse remain closed off, a few areas are completed, and others are untouched. A final price tag is nowhere to be found.

Kansans have been told three of the five phases of the remodeling project have been finished … but the final result is still at least four years away.

The price tag for the three completed phases is currently estimated at $175 million–about $550 per square foot, with much of the building remaining to be remodeled–and might even top $300 million. Mainstream media reports have cited the age and condition of the building as the excuse for the growing cost overruns.

No Fiscal Accountability

During the budget debate in the 2007 legislature state 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. The Senate rejected the idea on a 19-17 vote, with prominent “moderates,” including the legislative leadership of both parties, opposing that effort at fiscal accountability.

An unsuccessful bill to require an audit of statehouse spending was offered by Rep. Peggy Mast (R-Hamilton) and Sen. Chris Steineger (D-Kansas City) in May. They are among a number of legislators who are nervous over the soaring costs because few improvements are visible in the areas that are finished.

“The Capital renovation will cost more than double the original estimates. If this was a Fortune 500 company, the CEO & board of directors would be greatly concerned and want to know what happened in the original estimation and contracting process,” Steineger said.

Some states have chosen to replace old statehouse buildings instead of renovating them. Missouri has been through six statehouses in its 186 years as a state. In Florida, a new statehouse sits near the old historic statehouse in Tallahassee. Arkansas likewise has two statehouses.

$1,000 a Square Foot

Kansans will have a single remodeled statehouse after spending that could easily top $300 million (rapidly approaching $1,000 per square foot) by the time the project is completed sometime in the next decade. Huelskamp warned taxpayers, “You can’t go over budget if you have no budget.”

In addition, several other state office buildings across the street from the statehouse are being prepared for remodeling once the statehouse work gets finished.

The state’s General Fund budget is growing 10.4 percent and will top $6 billion for the first time next year. Apparently lawmakers see no big deal over a few hundred million more for the statehouse remodeling.

But would you spend somewhere between $500 to $1,000 per square foot to build your business or home?

Karl Peterjohn ([email protected]) is executive director of the Kansas Taxpayers Network and a former California Department of Finance budget analyst and newspaper reporter.