Uncertainty mars special session bid

Gov. Mark Dayton met with legislative leaders on Tuesday to weigh special session terms.

Ryan Faircloth

Prospects for a special session of the state Legislature appear unlikely after Gov. Mark Dayton and lawmakers again traded blame for not reaching an agreement.

With a failed compromise on a roughly $1 billion bonding bill and Dayton veto of a nearly $260 million tax bill, lawmakers continued to negotiate terms of a potential special session Tuesday. 

Dayton laid out his requirements — which included about $80 million of additional spending in fiscal year 2017 — in early June for him to call the session. Republican lawmakers have scoffed at Dayton’s requirements and have countered with their own special session wishes.  

After a meeting between legislative leaders and Dayton Tuesday, Dayton said negotiations are “moving backwards.”

“I’m very pessimistic at this point,” he said. 

Dayton said Republicans are now pushing for business preemption, which would exempt businesses from local law if it conflicts with state law, and a private education school tax credit to be included in special session talks.

“They added two measures that are enormously controversial,” he said. “They know that.”

But House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown,  disputed that the measures were controversial, adding that Democratic leaders previously voiced support of it.

Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said Dayton’s insistence on spending more money caused the holdup.

“What’s happening now is that the governor has decided he not only wants to be governor, he wants to be the Legislature as well and insist that those compromises be redone to give him more spending,” he said. “And I think that’s unreasonable.”

Part of the divide on the bonding bill is over the proposed Southwest light rail project, which has never been voted on or given a hearing, he said.

At a news conference following a meeting between legislators and the governor last week,  Daudt said the light rail project came up at the meeting and that each side is still “at a standoff on that issue.”

“We feel that there are too many unanswered questions, and we frankly think that the money can be better invested in our road and bridge infrastructure,” Daudt said.

But Sen. Kari Dziedzic, DFL-Minneapolis, said the new rail is necessary for transportation and has local support. 

Dziedzic, whose district covers the University of Minnesota, said reliable transit is needed for students and others who rely on public transportation.

She said projects like the 10th Avenue Bridge and the construction of a new $67 million University health sciences building also need funding.

“The roads and bridges, and maintaining these buildings or building the health science building, it’s not going to get cheaper,” Dziedzic said.

House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, agreed with Dziedzic on the necessity of funding a new health sciences building.

“The health sciences building at the University of Minnesota is a big priority for the governor and for us, and we’d like to see that included in the bonding bill,” Thissen said.

Thissen said ideological differences and a lack of urgency from the Republicans will make finding an agreement difficult.

“When I was in the room with the negotiations [last week], there was not a lot of energy there to move forward on the special session,” he said.

Thissen said the biggest problem was how long legislators waited to get things done, which led to a one-word mistake in the tax bill that would’ve cost the state roughly $100 million over three years. Dayton vetoed the bill because of the error.

Still, Hann said it was “ridiculous” for Dayton to veto the tax bill over one word.

“It’s pretty clear that he’s looking for a reason to veto the bill, and that’s what he came up with,” he said.

For a special session to occur, Hann said Dayton should honor compromises the Legislature reached at the end of its session May 23.

“The agreement that was reached at the end of session should be honored by the governor and Democrat majority, and … that’s what they should do,” he said. “Honor their agreements and pass those bills.”

Thissen disagreed and said Republicans are responsible for delaying the special session by not submitting a counterproposal to Dayton’s terms.

Despite the back and forth, Daudt remained optimistic.

“I think [the special session] will get done, but I’m going to need to give the governor a little more time to roll up his sleeves,” he said.