Legislative session ends with major goals unmet

A frustrating end to legislative session elicits hope for special session.

by Ryan Faircloth

When the legislative session ended last week, lawmakers failed to agree on an important deal to fund state infrastructure but managed to salvage some bills.
Still, legislators said there were some successful bills to take away from the session.
The Legislature passed a $182 million supplemental budget to fund many programs, including $35 million for equity programs targeting racial disparities, $25 million for E-12 education and $35 million for broadband internet development.
Sen. Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis, said he was proud of the work done on the supplemental budget’s investment to deal with racial equity and disparities.
“One of the problems we do have is … people of color don’t seem to be doing as well as others in the state, so we wanted to try to attack that by making an investment in that as well,” he said.
He said he was also satisfied with the omnibus tax bill, which includes a student loan tax credit, expansion of veteran tax credits and child care tax credit, among other breaks.
House Speaker Rep. Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said he was especially proud of the state income tax exemption provided for veterans’ retiree benefits.
“We were one of very few states that taxed veterans’ retiree benefits, so that’ll be a really great benefit for them,” he said.
But overall, Hayden said it was a tough session, given the failure to pass the infrastructure bonding bill.
Talks on the bonding bill broke down in the final minutes of the session after the Senate added a last-minute amendment to include funding for a proposed Southwest light rail line, just as the House adjourned.
The approximately $1 billion bonding deal would’ve included roughly $700 million for state transportation projects. Daudt said the bonding bill was important for funding roads and bridges in the state.
“I think that that was much-needed money for road and bridge infrastructure all over the state,” he said. “I think people around the state are really disappointed it didn’t get through.”
Hayden said he wished both sides could have agreed on the bill instead of waiting to see if Gov. Mark Dayton will call a special session to get the bonding bill passed.
“If we all could’ve kind of kept our word … I think we’d be in a much different place than this pending special session,” he said.
Larry Jacobs, director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance in the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs and the political science department, said he was surprised by the end result of this session.
“I think from afar, the fact that the legislative session failed to act on some of the biggest priorities is surprising and maybe a bit mystifying,” he said.
Jacobs said each party had their own “political calculus,” which was why they couldn’t agree on certain bills.
“For democrats, there is some confidence that’s expressed in private that they have a strong chance of regaining the majorities in not only the Senate, but also in the House,” he said, adding that this mindset may have contributed to the lack of compromise. 
“So the question on the mind of some of the DFLers is why take half-measures now if they can have it all in a few months?” Jacobs said. “And I think transportation was a great example of that.”
Daudt said he’s “cautiously optimistic” about the chances of a special session being called and thinks the likelihood would be boosted if Dayton acts fast.
But while Jacobs said he thinks Dayton is receptive to calling a special session, he said Dayton would likely pose stiff conditions Republicans may not accept.
At a press conference last week, Dayton said he was still unsure on whether to call legislators back. 
“Whether or not there will be a special session, I can’t say today,” Dayton said.