Legislative leaders agreed Wednesday to spend upward of $1.6 million to remodel House offices and build or expand nine committee rooms in the State Capitol.
State building officials also recommended that Gov. Norm Bangerter's and Lt. Gov. Val Oveson's suite of offices be remodeled for about $2 million, but the governor's chief of staff says that won't happen.Politically speaking, now is the time to make such changes. It's a non-election year for House members, the state has a revenue surplus and taxes weren't raised this year.
The Senate remodeled its offices and chambers several years ago, but the House didn't act then.
Newly installed Speaker Nolan Karras said House offices are shabby and poorly situated. The $1.6 million remodeling this year won't touch the House Chamber, which was recarpeted a year ago but already looks a bit worn.
"I've had national and international officials here to visit with me and I've been embarrassed to bring them into my office," said Karras.
During the last 45-day session, Karras said lobbyists sneaked back into the House offices and lined up outside his office door, waiting to grab his ear. "It (the office layout) doesn't work."
But Karras' real concern is for adequate committee room space. There are nine interim committees and more standing committees. Often, citizens can't physically get into the small committee rooms to hear or present opinions on various legislative actions. That frustrates lawmakers and citizens alike, said Karras.
Neal Stowe, director of Facilities Construction Management, told legislative leaders that after Karras requested a remodeling scheme for House offices and legislative committee rooms, one move led to another and architects decided the whole space in the Capitol had to be examined.
That led to moving offices around and a remodeling plan for the governor's office. Stowe said while exact figures haven't been compiled, the whole plan would run almost $4 million, the money to be taken out of state building maintenance funds.
Bangerter's portion is about $2 million and would include building a glass waiting room in the west end of the second floor hallway, combining the governor's and lieutenant governor's office suites and building new offices for Bangerter and Oveson and their staffs.
"We're not going to do this," said Bud Scruggs, Bangerter's chief of staff. "As much as his (Stowe's) suggestions make sense, our needs just don't justify this type of expense," he added.
Bangerter just won re-election to a second term in November. But he won with only 40 percent of the vote in a three-way race. Lawmakers just gave him a 17 percent pay increase, from $60,000 to $75,000 a year, and Deseret News/KSL-TV polls show citizens thought it was too much of an increase.
Stowe said the governor's office doesn't function well in a physical sense, with some staff members in the governor's suite, others across the Capitol's second floor in Oveson's office, and still more down on the first floor. Staffers spend a lot of time walking Capitol hallways, Stowe said.
Scruggs said Bangerter's response to that problem was the comment: "The nice thing about our marble floors is that they wear so well."