Californians who chide lawmakers for their lackadaisical approach toward addressing the state’s major problems – e.g., pension liabilities, creaking infrastructure, an incompetent Department of Motor Vehicles – might want to reconsider the Legislature’s abilities. A major Sacramento building project proves that legislators can indeed move mountains, at least when they have the motivation to do so.

We’re referring to a plan to build a $424 million office in downtown Sacramento. This “swing space” will house legislative and executive offices temporarily while the state reconstructs the aging Capitol annex, where lawmakers’ offices currently reside. As the Sacramento Bee noted, the project assures every lawmaker has a window “and avoids moving the Legislature during an election year.”

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The tower, which ultimately will house various state-government offices, also is exempt from some of the usual regulations. The contract was granted on a no-bid basis. It “uses an expedited environmental review” and was allowed to at least initially skip the ground-level retail and restaurant space that city leaders typically require in similar-sized buildings, according to the newspaper.

Other infrastructure needs – ranging from levee restoration to freeway expansions – strike us as higher priorities than new office space. But our main issue is with the hypocrisy. Lawmakers require that local governments and businesses operate under one set of rules, then they exempt themselves from these standards when it suits them.

The 1021 O Street building is an attractive project, as will be the newly reconstructed and much-costlier Capitol annex reconstruction. After the Legislature outgrew its space in the 1970s, it seriously considered vacating the then-seismically unsound Capitol and building twin structures east of the building, before undertaking a magnificent renovation.

This project is more modest and will enhance the landmark Capitol, but we’re hoping for a teachable moment after lawmakers settle into their space.

If they struggled to build the new tower under existing state rules, then other projects suffer, too.

Maybe the Legislature can move mountains to, say, reform the California Environmental Quality Act or other burdensome rules.

If not, the Legislature’s critics are justified in wondering about its priorities.

LA Daily News