ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — State lawyers argued Tuesday that a foe of a new Minnesota Senate office building should be on the hook for $18.6 million if his lawsuit doesn't succeed on appeal and construction is delayed.
Former Rep. Jim Knoblach's lawsuit is the final obstacle to the office tower, and his attorney told The Associated Press that a court ruling requiring a bond would effectively end the case.
"We wouldn't be able to forward the surety bond," said attorney Erick Kaardal. "It's too much money."
The Minnesota attorney general's office filed the request with the Court of Appeals, which is considering Knoblach's appeal of an earlier legal defeat. Knoblach, of St. Cloud, has argued that the process for approving the building was flawed and the courts should block it.
The building and related parking ramp adjacent to the Capitol are projected to cost $90 million. Taxpayers would cover all but $13 million.
In the motion, Assistant Attorney General Nathan Hartshorn says the state expects to start incurring delay costs in mid-May, with those rising if ground isn't broken by July 1. The state is holding off on selling bonds until the case is resolved.
Hartshorn writes that Knoblach's "continued pursuit of meritless legal claims threatens significant injury to the public treasury."
"From our standpoint we're trying to save the taxpayer $77 million and we feel we have a reasonable case and the court should hear the case expeditiously," Knoblach said in a telephone interview Tuesday.
The planned office building is intertwined with the state Capitol renovation. Senators with Capitol offices are being displaced and the Senate plans to use space in its new building as a temporary chamber for the 2016 session. The timeline is tight and Department of Administration officials say they may need to make alternative plans if the project stalls.
Kaardal said nothing would stop state officials from moving ahead with the building's financing while the lawsuit plays out.
"The bonds aren't backed by the full faith and credit of Minnesota anyway so just go find the right junk bond dealer," he said.
It's not the first time state attorneys have tried to quell a legal threat to a public project. In January, they sought a $50 million bond from opponents of a new Vikings stadium who were suing to stop a bond sale. That lawsuit was quickly dismissed by the Supreme Court.