LANSING (AP) — It’s been 21 years since work wrapped up on a $58 million restoration of the state Capitol, a National Historic Landmark that remains among the most revered sites in Michigan.
Keeping the building in good shape, though, has proved tougher than expected at the time of the 1992 rededication. Money was tight during recessions and budget deficits. In better times, lawmakers had more pressing priorities or tried avoiding the political awkwardness of sprucing up their own house with taxpayer dollars.
But some legislators say the 135-year-old Capitol can no longer wait. They are pushing a five-bill plan, which may win final legislative approval in December, to overhaul oversight of the building and its grounds, make them a state historic site and create a permanent maintenance fund.
“All we’re doing is taking some general fund money and directing it toward this building. There’s no increase in taxes, no increase in fees,” said Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, a Monroe Republican. “This is an historic building, and we found some leaks, we found some other problems starting to happen and there’s nothing in place to take care of that. I think it’s important that we do take care of this building.”
The main bill sponsored by Republican Sen. Roger Kahn of Saginaw Township unanimously cleared the Senate before lawmakers’ recent two-week fall break. It would create a new commission to maintain the Capitol and oversee area parking lots.
Another Kahn bill still pending on the Senate floor would earmark $3 million a year from tobacco taxes, adjusted for inflation, to a fund for Capitol upkeep and restoration projects, beginning in the 2014-15 fiscal year.
Veteran legislators and officials who’ve long worked at the Capitol say the intent of the legislation is to make decisions about painting the dome and fixing the roof less “political.” Nothing would stop lawmakers from pulling money out of the new fund for other purposes, but supporters say having an ongoing revenue source year in and year out would be better than leaving it to the Legislature to set aside funding for Capitol upkeep during budget fights.