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State Legislatures Moving into Renovated Offices

December 10, 2004
By: David Ferrucci
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Throughout the halls of the state Capitol, there are signs of change. Moving boxes, paint supplies, filing cabinets, rolls of carpet and discarded fluorescent lighting dot the Carthage, Mo. marble walkways.

The reorganization of state legislative offices follows every election year. For whatever reason -- term limits, resignation or the failure to win reelection -- Senate and House members are moving -- some out and some to better offices. And their old offices often are renovated for the members moving in.

But what are the costs to taxpayers for these renovations? And who decides what renovations are needed? And how is it decided who gets that prized office with the choice view overlooking the Missouri river?

Like a lot of things in Jefferson City, it's complicated.

On the Senate side, the Senate administrator decides what renovations are needed. Senate Administrator Michael Keathley runs the Senate in terms of office supplies and making sure the Senate follows the rules for hiring, firing and promotions.

Back in late summer, Keathley visited offices that were being vacated and took notes on the condition of the carpet and other furnishings.

Keathley then took that information to the Senate Committee on Administration for spending approval.

In September, the Committee authorized a maximum of $25,000 total to be spent on Senate office renovations.

According to Mark Hughes, Senate spokesperson, the total cost of renovations "will be significantly less" than the amount authorized.

Hughes said after the November elections, new members selected their offices with the understanding as to what, if any, renovations would be done to the office.

"No new member got to decide what improvements were made to the office," Hughes said.

This is a lot different than how it was done in the past, Hughes said. There was a time when a new member could request office changes just because the member didn't like the color of the carpet.

Senate offices are allocated on the basis of seniority. The senator with the most seniority gets first choice of of an office, or to stay in the current office. Seniority requirements are written into the Senate rules and also determine how the members are seated in the Senate chamber.

"They're big on seniority here," Hughes said.

So members who have been around the longest have first shot at the offices overlooking the Missouri River.

However, members also take into consideration physical limitations, Hughes said. For example, Senator-elect Chuck Graham, who uses a wheelchair, was given a third floor office close to the elevator and the Senate floor.

In the House, things are done a little differently, according to Mark Wright, incoming chairman of the House Accounts Committee -- the committee that oversees approval of offices, equipment and personnel decision among other duties.

Office allotment is largely determined by who controls the majority of the House. The majority party takes their allotment of offices and assigns them according to seniority. The minority party then assigns the remaining offices, Wright said.

This year the Republicans will assign 97 offices before the Democrats get to choose from the remaining offices.

Renovation requests also work differently in the House. Each member is allotted what Wright called "an $800 account." They get $800 a month to buy what they want for their office including mailings, supplies and renovations, Wright said.

Once they deplete their $800 they cannot buy anything else, Wright said.

Unlike the Senate, House members decide what they want renovated and if its worthy of spending their $800 account on it. Before renovations get under way, however, it must receive Wright's approval.

Wright said most Representatives spend their $800 on mailing and other publications.

"A lot of members want to save their money for publication so that's why you see some offices that haven't had their carpet changed out for twenty years, Wright said.

Even still, if you visit the hallways of Missouri's Capitol in December, you'll see a lot of remodling work.