Trading spaces after the election

The Missouri Capitol buzzes with office renovations.
Monday, December 13, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 1:34 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 1, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — Throughout the halls of the state Capitol, there are signs of change.

Boxes, paint supplies, filing cabinets, rolls of carpet and discarded fluorescent lights litter the marble walkways.

The reorganization and renovation of state legislative offices comes every election year, when some politicians leave, others move to new offices and still more win promotions from the voters.

But what are the costs to taxpayers for these renovations? Who decides what renovations are necessary? And how do politicians decide who gets that prized office with the view of the Missouri River?

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

On the Senate side, Senate Administrator Michael Keathley decides what office renovations should be done. In late summer, Keathley visited offices that were being vacated and noted the condition of carpeting and furnishings. He took that information to the Senate Committee on Administration, which authorized spending up to $25,000 on sprucing up Senate offices.

Senate spokesman Mark Hughes said the cost of renovations will be significantly less than the amount authorized. He said that after the November elections, new members selected their offices knowing what renovations would be done.

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

The procedure today is much different from the past, Hughes said. There was a time when a new member could request office changes just because he or she didn’t like the color of the carpet.

Seniority determines which senators get which offices, consistent with other Senate traditions. Seniority also determines how members are seated in the Senate chamber.

“They’re big on seniority here,” Hughes said.

Members also consider physical limitations, Hughes said. State Sen.-elect Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, uses a wheelchair, so he was given a third-floor office close to the elevator and the Senate floor.

The House of Representatives does things a bit differently, said Mark Wright, incoming chairman of the House Accounts Committee. The committee oversees approval of offices, equipment and personnel decisions.

Office allotment in the House is largely determined by which party holds the majority. The majority party, in this case the Republicans, takes its allotment of offices and assigns them according to seniority. The minority party then assigns the remaining offices, Wright said.

Republican representatives will take dibs on 97 offices before Democrats get to choose their first.

Renovation requests also work differently in the House. Members are each allotted $800 per month for their offices. They can use it as they see fit —to buy supplies or to pay for renovations — Wright said, but renovations are subject to Wright’s approval.

“A lot of members want to save their money for publication(s), so that’s why you see some offices that haven’t had their carpet changed out for 20 years,” Wright said.

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