JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – One week from Tuesday, lawmakers will be back at the Missouri State Capitol for a special session to lower the state’s income tax rate but the problem is the renovation in the House chamber isn’t complete.
It’s the first major renovation in the lower chamber since the 1980s. The upgrades include new voting boards, carpets, and wiring. The goal was to have it completed by the middle of September but with a delay in shipping and a special session, members will have to make do.
Compared to when the representatives adjourned in May, the House chamber looks a lot different. The 75 by 80-foot room has no carpet, folding tables, and nowhere to sit. Chief Clerk of the House Dana Rademan Miller said once the call for a special session was announced they had to come up with a plan.
“Once we got that call though and that proclamation was issued, we knew that we just needed to have the chamber ready and that’s what we’re doing,” Rademan Miller said. “They will have a desk, a seat and they will have a laptop and a box to vote on.”
The governor is calling the General Assembly back to Jefferson City for a special session to lower the state’s income tax rate from 5.4% to 4.8%. He also wants lawmakers to reauthorize tax credits for farmers for at least six years. Earlier this year during the regular sessions, members-only approved the credits for two years.
Benches, desks, and furniture line the hallways outside of the lower chamber. The project was supposed to be done by veto session which takes place on September 14 but due to shipping delays for the carpet, the project is now on hold.
“I think this has been like any home remodeling project,” Rademan Miller said. “If you start one thing and then that project leads to another. Then you find out you have another issue or contingency you didn’t know about. We had some of that happen but in my opinion, that’s a good thing because the goal would be to have this chamber in operational order for the next 50 years.”
She said the carpet was replaced in 2008, but other than that, it’s been more than 40 years since any major repairs have been done.
“It’s a carpeting project but it’s actually a lot more than that because once we pulled up that old carpeting there’s a lot of infrastructures that runs under the chamber floor,” Rademan Miller said. “All of the wiring that feeds the members’ desks for their voting boxes, their laptops, microphones all runs under the floor. We updated a large percentage of that wiring that makes all of those systems work.”
Another major cost of the project is the two voting boards in the front of the chamber. A board sits on either side of the dais showing how members voted on a measure. Both are being replaced, costing about $425,000.
“Our voting boards were going on 26 years old and in the tech world they were dinosaurs and we felt this was a good opportunity to go ahead and replace the voting boards,” Rademan Miller said.
The mahogany desks that representatives use were shipped to St. Louis where they were restored, costing around $200,000. Rademan Miller said that replacing the carpet costs several hundred thousand and overall, the price tag for the entire project is estimated to cost just under a million dollars.
There are 163 members in the House, but with eight vacancies there are currently only 155 representatives. Instead of taking a roll call vote like the Senate does during the remodeling process, Rademan Miller said the voting boxes were mounted to the folding tables.
“To do a manual role call like the Senate would take over half an hour per vote which is time-consuming,” Rademan Miller said. “We felt that it was important to make sure the votes were recorded with accuracy and that we could be efficient with our time.”
The carpet was supposed to be installed by the time the veto session started but Rademan Miller said there were shipping delays. Due to the amount of carpet and the wool material, it’s estimated to take up to three weeks to install.
“When we got word from the carpet manufacturer that they were running behind, we were already at that point thinking about September 14 and what would we need to do in order to facilitate the session,” Rademan Miller said. “They’re going to be renting a crane potentially to actually lift and get the carpet into the building from the grand staircase on the main doors because there are such large rolls of carpeting.”
She said the carpet has been delivered but because it’s estimated to take around 21 days to install it, contractors will have to wait until the session is over which means desks and furniture will remain in the hallways.
This isn’t the first time lawmakers will be using plastic chairs on the House floor.
“Many of our members are excited about this because it really is historic. I can only think of one other time that we met in the chamber in 1917, where it maybe would have looked a little like this before the chamber was complete,” Rademan Miller said.
Rademan Miller said it’s not costing the state anymore to put the project on hold, but they did buy the dozens of folding tables because it was cheaper than renting them.
The special session starts Tuesday, September 6. The legislation will start in the Senate before it moves to the House.