Despite being only a small fraction of the $140 million bill needed to fund maintenance and construction projects for state-owned buildings, continued funding for work on the State Capitol building took up a large amount of the Legislature’s time on Tuesday.
The $4.5 million allocated to the Capitol in the “capital construction” budget bill — which funds state maintenance and construction projects — was a point of contention. especially for Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, who said the $300-plus million restoration project needed to be considered finished.
“I think at some point, we need to just accept that the building is completed,” Gray said during House floor debate on House Bill 121. “I don’t think this is ever going to end. It’s becoming a little bit odd, to be honest with you, the number of times we have heard that they need one more traunch to finish this building. It’s it’s getting odd.”
Gray said hearing requests for additional money for the State Capitol was “like an out of body experience”
“It’s repeated over and over and over again,” he said. “I think we need to move forward and accept that the project is completed.”
Gray also said he didn’t accept the idea that just because there might be some good projects in the state’s Capital Construction bill, the legislation should be passed. To him, funding for the State Capitol and the University of Wyoming College of Law (something he said the university should raise money for on its own) was enough to kill it altogether.
“We’ve heard a number of arguments. One is that there’s some good stuff in the bill and therefore the premise is it should be accepted because there’s some good things in here,” he said. “But where do we draw the line? Do we ever draw the line?”
But Rep. Bob Nicholas, R-Cheyenne said the restoration project was not finished and “we need to finish it.”
Further he said, squashing the entire bill over $4.5 million allocated to the State Capitol was akin to “throwing out the baby with the bathwater.”
“If you don’t keep up with your major maintenance, and with new construction and replacing buildings, when they’re out of date, you get behind and then it gets more and more expensive to fix,” Nicholas said.
There was also a disagreement over state spending altogether. Gray said the state couldn’t afford this bill and added he would rather the dollars be allocated for other needs.
“This bill is profligate and unsustainable,” Gray said. “It needs to stop. Whether it’s a $300 million deficit and education or a $700 million, one, based on the capital gains, money’s fungible, and every dollar spent is another dollar that we’re not able to plug a deficit or to fill in needed services.”
Rep. Steve Harshman R-Casper, disagreed with the premise that funding state capitol projects meant not funding something else.
“This is not a choice between construction workers all around the state and the elderly or schoolchildren, it’s not,” he said. “So again, we pay hard cash. We don’t owe anybody any money. And we’re going to keep building the state. That’s what we do.”
The legislation passed on third reading by a 41 – 19 vote.