Statehouse Spending

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Thursday, November 18, 2010

It was 12 years ago that Kansas lawmakers approved renovation for the Kansas Statehouse. Little did they know the economy would tank and building costs would rise. Now, as the completion of the massive project nears, some are questioning whether it's worth the millions spent.

One hundred and forty years after the statehouse was built on the open Kansas prairie, a team of architects, builders and construction crews set out to rediscover its original beauty and design.

"This is the legacy of our forefathers. We're restoring it in the vision they started in 1866. We're saying it's worthy to be restored for the future generations," Architect Barry Greis said.

But are the nearly $300 million dollars in renovations worth it when education and social services are being cut? And what about the huge budget deficit the state is facing? These questions have many taxpayers wondering if the renovations should continue.

"I'm sure there's a reason for it, but they should be using the money to promote jobs instead of for the people in the government," Dave Goeringer, a Kansas taxpayer, said.

Another Kansas taxpayer, Matt Serriez said, "The money could go to something a lot better like education. Especially the way the economy is." State legislators admit it hasn't been easy to justify the spending. "It's a hard decision. We are so close. But I believe it needs to be finished," Republican State Senator Jean Schodorf, Wichita, said.

With four of the five phases being completed, most lawmakers don't want to stop the project. "It's been the will of the legislature to continue that and finish the project," Schodorf added.

And, halting the project would be expensive in more ways than one. "There will be a cost of shutting down, halting contracts, we've already ordered supplies and materials."

A statehouse report says it would cost $11 million dollars in general fund money to shut down the project, and 120 construction workers making a combined $14 million dollars would be out of work.

The original budget for the project, approved by the Kansas legislature in the 1990's was estimated at $90-120 million dollars. But, over the years, those costs have risen dramatically to $285 million dollars.

Greis blames unforeseen conditions and inflation. "The east wing, the plaster was great after 140 years. On the west wing, the plaster had to be replaced because it was falling off," Greis said.

And, when you see the results. Well, it is amazing. The multimillion dollar senate with its gigantic chandeliers, brass pillars and the original artwork. Greis says this room could stand up to any state senate in the country.

Kansas resident Steve Wilson said, "To maintain something of historic value, you have to spend the money well, to maintain it."
In the end, supporters say history is being restored for the future of the state. "This is what they had planned. This is the story and legacy they wanted to leave for the future."

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