A bill that would eventually empty out downtown Sacramento’s troubled Board of Equalization headquarters – and cost hundreds of millions of tax dollars to do it – went on hold Wednesday while its author tweaks the measure to make it more palatable to lawmakers.
Assembly Bill 1656 would commit the state to acquiring a new facility for about 2,200 employees crammed into the tax-collecting board’s 24-story office tower. The new space also would be large enough to bring in about 2,000 board staff who now work in five local satellite offices, plus room for future expansion.
A state estimate put a $500 million price tag on Assemblyman Roger Dickinson’s bill, with millions more to pay off the debt on the board’s chronically defective high-rise. After learning that the Assembly Appropriations Committee wasn’t going to vote on it Wednesday, Dickinson decided not to present it until later this month.
Between now and then, the Sacramento Democrat plans to rework the legislation. Instead of appropriating money for a new campus, Dickinson said, he’ll tweak the measure so that it just sets a deadline for presenting a plan to the Legislature. Then lawmakers could debate the merits of moving the board into what would likely be 1 million square feet of business space.
“We need to push the process along,” said Dickinson, who is running for Sacramento’s state Senate seat, “and not necessarily ask for all the money up front.”
Since the building opened for business 21 years ago, taxpayers have shoveled about $60 million into combating defects that have plagued the tower, including invasive mold, leaking windows, burst pipes, unreliable elevators, falling glass and traces of toxic substances.
It gets worse: Last year plumbers found corrosion in improperly installed pipes that carry wastewater from the building’s toilets and sinks. Ick.
The year before, an exterior glass panel fell eight floors and shattered on the sidewalk below, nearly hitting a passerby. Since then, the building’s base has been festooned with a canopy of scaffolds and plywood, just in case another rogue panel pops loose.
The cost to repair those problems and a few other fixes will be another $30 million, the state estimates. Moving employees around for repairs carries inefficiency costs, too.
And it’s not like the board can just turn in the keys. The state bought the building for $80.7 million seven years ago. The board’s lease payments service the debt, currently about $77 million.
Dickinson’s bill is the latest in a long line seeking to move the board out of the state’s unofficial money pit. Some died in the Legislature. Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed an exploratory building measure a few years ago because, he said, the state didn’t have the money.
Now the state’s finances are better off, but with so many interests elbowing for dollars, will lawmakers entertain spending big bucks to move a tax agency?