Nick Krieger (@nckrieger):
Today would have been Billie S. Farnum’s 100th birthday. Farnum was born on April 11, 1916, in Saginaw. After serving in the Civilian Conservation Corps and working in the automobile industry, Farnum held leadership positions in the United Auto Workers and became active in Democratic politics. Farnum eventually served as Michigan’s Auditor General, United States Congressman from Michigan’s 19th district, and Secretary of the Michigan Senate.
The Billie S. Farnum Building in downtown Lansing is named in his honor. For years, it housed the offices of the Michigan Senate. But Senate Republicans are moving forward with their controversial $134 million plan to rent new offices at the Capitol View Building, just down the street.
Why have Senate Republicans decided to vacate a state-owned building that was completely paid for and to rent expensive new offices in a different building, just a couple of blocks away? The answer probably won’t surprise you.
For starters, as its name implies, the Capitol View Building has a better view than the Farnum Building. The new offices will also be much fancier than those in the Farnum Building. In today’s era of term limits—when state senators can only be reelected once and therefore have very little incentive to heed the wishes of their constituents—members of the Michigan Senate seem bound and determined to take advantage of all the benefits Lansing has to offer during their short tenures there. The luxurious new offices in the Capitol View Building will certainly be a nice perk for our hard-working lawmakers.
In addition, the Capitol View Building is owned by the Boji Group, headed by Ron Boji. The Boji family has contributed tens of thousands of dollars to Michigan Republicans over the years. Oh, and don’t expect Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette to investigate this boondoggle. According to WZZM investigative reporters, “Schuette has received close to $35,000 in direct and in-kind contributions from the owners of Capitol View, the Boji family.”
The Michigan Strategic Fund has already issued bonds to purchase and renovate several floors in the Capitol View Building. Once these renovations are completed, the Strategic Fund will lease the new office space to its tenant, the Michigan Senate. In other words, it’s a done deal. All that remains is for the taxpayers of Michigan to pay back the bonds, including substantial interest payments, over the next 30 years. As noted previously, the total price tag will be about $134 million. By contrast, the Farnum Building could have been completely renovated for only $16 million.
I wonder what Billie Farnum, a former state auditor, would say about all this government waste. He’s probably turning in his grave.