State lawmakers are weighing whether to fund what could be the last chance of having a new state Capitol in place for the 2012 centennial.
The House is set to debate a measure today to free up $450,000 used for initial planning and architectural drawings of what would become new homes for the state House and Senate.
Former Phoenix Mayor John Driggs, who is spearheading the push, acknowledged that's not nearly enough to do even the full design. He hopes to find private sources to match the state dollars.
But the real challenge, Driggs said, will be coming up with the $100 million - if not much more - it will take to actually finance new buildings.
The funding request comes as lawmakers are still struggling with how to balance next year's budget, with anticipated revenue running perhaps$2 billion behind planned expenses.
But what may save the day is that money has already been set aside.
Lawmakers allocated $2.5 million two years ago for the Arizona Historical Advisory Commission to come up with plans for celebrating 100 years since the state was admitted to the union on Feb. 14, 1912. Supporters of the plan promised to raise $5 million in matching funds.
That never happened.
SB1337 takes back $2 million of that to help balance the budget, leaving the commission $50,000 for some sort of centennial plan.
It is that remaining $450,000 that Driggs hopes could be the seed money for a new Capitol.
The idea is not new.
Sen. Jake Flake, R-Snowflake, began advocating the idea at least three years ago when he was House speaker.
Flake said the current twin House and Senate buildings, opened in 1960, are dysfunctional - especially on the House side, which has twice as many members as the Senate.
On one hand, that means a larger chamber to accommodate all 60 lawmakers. But that, in turn, leaves even less space for the offices for those legislators and their staffs.
The Senate building, with more space per lawmaker, has its own problems: There have been several plumbing failures in the last two years, one of which flooded the basement offices of staff members.
And even Gov. Janet Napolitano recognized the need, asking lawmakers last year to start planning what she said would be a new $500 million Capitol complex. But the funds never were forthcoming.
Driggs and Flake both said the need remains. That leaves the question of cost. Driggs said that's the reason the $450,000 for the preliminary design work is needed.
And he acknowledged the state's current fiscal crunch. Still, Driggs said it is "very realistic" to come up with $100 million, citing the experience of Oklahoma, which had its centennial in November.
"Oklahoma raised more than $100 million, more than $60 million of it privately, for their centennial," he said. While some of that went to special celebrations, Driggs said some went to actually finishing that state's Capitol, left without a dome when political leaders decided during World War I to save $200,000 on what was, at the time, a $1.5 million building.
Adding the dome later had a $21 million price tag.
He said 16 companies and families each pledged $1 million to that project.
"And we're at least 40 percent larger than Oklahoma," Driggs said.
"If Oklahoma can do it, why can't we do it?" he continued. "We're the fastest-growing, one of the most dynamic states in the country, and we have one of the worst Capitol situations."
One of the elements being considered is putting the original 1901 Capitol building back into actual use.
That building originally housed all of the territorial offices, including both the House and Senate, the governor, the state Supreme Court and all state agencies. But a legislative task force has suggested that, with some upgrades to the century-old technology, the rooms there could be used for some legislative meetings and even office space.
How far that $450,000 will take Driggs - even if he gets private matching funds - is unclear.
When Napolitano sought that $14 million last year, she said that would include full-blown architectural and engineering designs as well as preparing the documents necessary to put the project out for bid.