Capitol Controversy Over Chairs in House Chamber

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LANSING, Mich. (June 27, 2014) – Michigan lawmakers are in the midst of a summer break, but activity continues in Lansing where the house business office is considering bids to buy new chairs.

The cost is estimated to be around $100,000.

House business manager Tim Bowlin says there shouldn’t be any controversy about how this money is spent because it’s discretionary funding meant to be used to maintain and restore the Capitol.

Bowlin says this money is earmarked for maintenance at the Capitol.

“Maintenance money doesn’t go to roads,” said Bowlin.

Six bids were submitted by Michigan furniture companies, ranging from $800 to $1,300 per chair. The House chamber needs 110 seats.

-         American Interiors

-         DBI

-         Klingman’s

-         NBS Commercial Interiors

-         Trinity Furniture Inc.

-         WorkSquared

As a taxpayer, you might wonder what is wrong with the old chairs.

The chairs are 24-years-old.

“A lot of wear and tear in those chairs,” said Bowlin. “Those chairs were never designed with ergonomic features.”

Bowlin also says the chairs are damaging the desks used by the lawmakers because they’re not designed to fit the desks.

The funding for Capitol building repairs comes from tobacco tax revenue.

It’s a plan approved almost unanimously in the legislature: 37-0 in the Senate and 109 to 1 in the House. Only a republican from Oakland County voted against it.

Lawmakers approved $3 million for the Michigan state Capitol historic site fund, the pot of money used to pay for building upkeep.

“Appropriating money for the Capitol restoration is certainly not a bad thing,” said Rep. Brandon Dillon, D-Grand Rapids. “But the idea that legislators need new comfy chairs to be able to sit on the floor, I think, is a little bit odd. Had we known that was one of the intended expenditures for this fund I think there would have been a lot more scrutiny.”

Bowlin says he has a responsibility to preserve the Capitol building, and in the long run, taxpayers will actually save money by purchasing the chairs now rather than later.

“There is no doubt,” Bowlin said. “There is no doubt we are because somebody is going to have to do these types of things. Not only the chairs, but the dome painting; all those types of things in the future and those costs are certainly going to go up.”

Ari Adler, a spokesman for House Speaker Jase Bolger told FOX 17 the issue is under review.

“The Speaker’s Office has been informed that bids have been received and processed for new chairs in the House of Representatives chamber. No decision has been made on whether to make the purchase and the Speaker is reviewing the information provided by the House Business Office. The House Business Office is a nonpartisan entity charged with the operation and maintenance of the House facilities in the Capitol. As the experts, the Speaker seeks their counsel on the best way to invest money from the Capitol maintenance fund to maintain the House portions of the state Capitol to ensure the taxpayers’ earlier investments in restoring the building are protected. I find it interesting that the Democrats who hollered that we should listen to the road experts and keep politics out of the road funding debate are now suggesting we should ignore the Capitol maintenance experts and have inserted politics into this discussion.”

Although the final decision has not been made, indications are the furniture contract will go to DBI, a Lansing-based company which is owned by Gov. Snyder’s cousin.

Bowlin told FOX 17 while DBI didn’t submit the lowest bid, it did submit the lowest bid related to the type of chairs appropriate for the House floor.

He said bidding was an “open process” and included “quality companies.”

Earlier this year, Democrats complained when the governor’s relative got another state contract. They called it cronyism and favoritism. The governor denied that.

If approved, the new chairs should be on the floor by the end of this year or early next.

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