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Calendar provides its own, firm special session deadline

ST. PAUL - A rigid calendar deadline that not even top Minnesota officials can change affects citizens statewide, but especially in greater Minnesota.The reality that the 2017 state Legislature begins in three weeks and it is nearly impossible to...

ST. PAUL – A rigid calendar deadline that not even top Minnesota officials can change affects citizens statewide, but especially in greater Minnesota.
The reality that the 2017 state Legislature begins in three weeks and it is nearly impossible to negotiate major legislation during the holidays means Thursday, Dec. 15, is the last day deals can be reached on bills about taxes, public works projects and health insurance assistance, Gov. Mark Dayton said Tuesday.
He could not predict if a special legislative session will be called to deal with the issues.
“The coin is flipping in the air,” the governor said.
The House speaker said the governor and legislative leaders are close, but offered little hope that the Thursday deadline can be met.
“He wants everything (his way) and we are kind of right back to square one,” Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said in an interview after Dayton’s comments.
Still, Daudt said: “We are very close.”
Alyssa Siems Roberson, spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, said Senate Democrats hope negotiations can be concluded by Thursday.
All three bills that could come up in a Dec. 20 special session affect greater Minnesota residents more than their big-city cousins
The health insurance measure would send more than $300 million to Minnesotans who buy individual health insurance policies. Although just 5 percent of people buy those (most others are insured by employer or government policies), farmers and others in rural areas tend to need individual policies more than people in cities.
While Daudt agrees with Dayton that insurance premium assistance is needed, he also called for better policies for some in greater Minnesota, where many people have no choice, only a policy with high costs and limited health-care providers being covered.
Many rural Minnesotans will be forced to drive an hour or two for care, he said. “We are going to have some people who have to stop their cancer treatment at Mayo because they (Mayo Clinic facilities) are not in their (insurance) plan any more.”
The tax bill includes $20 million in increased Local Government Aid, a program relied on by many greater Minnesota cities. It also has a variety of tax cuts, including reducing taxes collected on farmland for new school facilities.
Greater Minnesota communities would be home to more projects in the $1 billion public works bill, funded by the state selling bonds,
“This bill contains projects throughout our state that will benefit all Minnesotans, but especially people living in greater Minnesota communities,” Dayton wrote to legislators, knowing that rural voters in the Nov. 8 election handed Republicans House and Senate majorities in the 2017 Legislature.
Daudt said the public works bill is the one issue where Dayton and Republicans remain most divided.
Talks about funding public works projects and passing a tax bill started soon after the 2016 regular session adjourned in May. In October, Dayton asked that insurance premium relief be added after news emerged that some who buy individual policies would feel premium hikes up to 67 percent.
Dayton said that if bonding or tax differences are not resolved he would call lawmakers in for a special session just about health insurance aid.
The governor said that while lawmakers could pass the insurance aid soon after they return to their regular session on Jan. 3, action that fast seldom happens. That would leave Minnesotans to pay more than they should for insurance, he said.
Tax and bonding legislation likely would pass late in the legislative session, the governor said, meaning their benefits would be delayed, including missing next year’s construction season.
While on Dec. 2 Dayton and the leaders tentatively agreed to a Dec. 20 special session, the governor said he is willing to have that slip a day or two if needed. However, he added, it is hard to gather people around the holidays.
“It is understandable that people made other plans to be elsewhere … because no one anticipated that after seven months we would still be talking about a special session,” Dayton said.

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