DALLAS — As lawmakers return to their state capitols for the 2014 sessions, some begin the legislative process under newly restored domes while others look for money to preserve the stately buildings without issuing debt.
In Topeka, Kan., the most costly capitol restoration project in the nation has been completed in time for the 2014 session at $332 million, nearly three times the estimate when restoration of the copper-topped landmark began in 2001. Funds were raised through 12 bond issues from 2001 to 2013.
Click here to see slideshow.
In the process of restoring its copper dome, Kansas discovered in 2010 that the entire metal structure would have to be replaced at a cost of $10.3 million. By then, even opponents of debt were willing to surrender another $36 million of bonds to complete the project. Two years later, the last $5.4 million won legislative approval.
"It's time to get it done," Gov. Sam Brownback said after approving the final bonds. "I haven't been the biggest fan of this project. But it's just time to wrap it up."
Brownback will deliver his 2014 state-of-the-state address in the restored capitol's House Chamber on Wednesday.
In neighboring Colorado, the General Assembly opened its session Wednesday under a 105-year-old dome that was repaired and plated in a new sheet of gold at a cost of $17 million, with $4 million allocated by the legislature and the remainder from grants, gifts and sponsors. Even the $116,175 of 24-karat gold from the Cripple Creek & Victor Mining Co. in Teller County was donated.
Before artisans could begin the meticulous process of applying the gold leaf to the dome, workers had to shore up the structure. State officials became alarmed in 2006 when a piece of cast-iron fell to the observation deck that provides thousands of annual visitors a sweeping panorama of the Rocky Mountains and the Denver skyline.
Next door Oklahoma is still looking for a way to finance $120 million of repairs to its 97-year-old capitol in time for the building's centennial without issuing debt. They've done it before. The dome added to the then 83-year-old edifice in 2002 was financed entirely through donations.
Last year's Oklahoma legislature passed House Bill 2032 to fund the repairs through existing revenues. However, the state Supreme Court struck down the bill on Dec. 17, saying that combining funding for the project with an income tax cut violated the state constitutional ban on logrolling, or including multiple subjects in a single bill.
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, who signed the bill, said she was "extremely disappointed in the Supreme Court's decision to unravel a plan that would have provided tax relief to Oklahoma families as well as a way of restoring our crumbling capitol building. I will work closely with the legislature to develop a strategy to move forward."
House Speaker T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton, who authored HB 2032, said he was "prepared to act quickly with legislative leaders and the governor to restore what the Supreme Court has undone."
Last May, a proposed $221 million bond issue for a major renovation of the capitol fell one vote short in the House, but $44 million was allocated as part of another bonding bill.
Oklahoma lawmakers acknowledged that conservative opposition to government played a role in dodging debt.
"It reflected just how skittish members are about government debt in light of all the debt Congress has racked up in Washington," former House Speaker Kris Steele, a Republican who supported the measure, said in a statement. "While Oklahoma has managed its debt well, the fact is it's just a tough time to incur any debt given the political climate. It's an unfortunate result because these buildings really are in awful shape."
Opposition to using debt to maintain a state's temple of government is not unique to Oklahoma. In Colorado, some lawmakers wanted to finance the dome repairs without using any state revenue. State Sen. Mike Kopp, R-Littleton, likened that proposal to seeking donations to repair a state highway.
Utah is nearing completion of a 20-year, $260 million master plan that includes rehabilitation of the capitol, including installation of wireless and fiber technology, a seismic retrofit and construction of new buildings to house legislators, staff and state agencies. The capitol sits in an earthquake zone above the Great Salt Lake.
Utah used a combination of bonds limited to maturities of six years with contributions from the public.
"That's not uncommon," Kae Warnock, policy specialist for the National Conference of State Legislatures in Denver, said of the quest for contributions. "The state capitol is the people's house, and the state legislature always tries to reach out to citizens to get them involved."
Oklahoma's capitol was originally designed to have a dome, but the state could not afford one until a woman named Carol Maxine Boone Gwin organized a group called the Capitol DOMERS (Dedicated Oklahomans Marshaling Excellence and Rallying Spirit). The Domers raised $21 million to pay for the dome that was dedicated in 2002. Gwin died New Year's day at the age of 98.
"Her grassroots effort helped Oklahomans realize the importance and significance of adding a dome to complete our beautiful Capitol building," Gov. Fallin said after Gwin's death. "Her passion ultimately led more than 10 years later to the project that built the dome on the Capitol."
The most recent round of rotunda repairs came during the worst recession since the Great Depression.
"Capitol restoration is something that ebbs and flows based on budget," Warnock said. "There was never a system put in place to maintain them. Legislators feel uncomfortable asking citizens for a lot of money for these buildings because there are so many other needs."
In Arizona, the original 113-year-old capitol building is a museum.
In the 1990s, Arizona spent more than $3 million to renovate the original Capitol. However, money problems intervened even then, as construction was stopped on a few rooms on the third floor that remain incomplete.
Meanwhile, the more modern buildings where the Arizona House and Senate conduct business are now in need of repairs. The Senate building is especially prone to plumbing problems.
A task force appointed by the state legislature in 2007 called the complex "barely" adequate for the state's current needs and "wholly" inadequate to suit the state's future needs.
Nationwide, more than two-thirds of the states have invested in capitol repairs or restorations since 2000, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts.
In Minnesota, lawmakers last year approved bonds for a $241 million renovation of the capitol in St. Paul that is expected to be completed in 2016.
In Wyoming, legislators are grappling with how to finance the estimated $113 million of repairs needed at their capitol in Cheyenne.
Idaho reopened its Capitol in 2010 after spending $123 million.
In 2001, a mentally ill truck driver rammed his semi tractor-trailer rig into the California Capitol in Sacramento badly damaging the rare granite used in the south portico. Finding replacement granite was the toughest challenge during the $23 million of repairs, Warnock said.
"Each capitol is completely unique," she said.
"There are no two alike. In Colorado, for example, the rose marble used in the rotunda is the only rose marble left in the world," she said.
"The question when repairs are needed is: Are we going to build a new building or are we going to save the great lady?" Warnock said. "It's sad that so often the public doesn't understand how unique these buildings are."