Special session? We’ll see
ST. PAUL -- The Minnesota Legislature has built a reputation for chaotic endings, followed by a special session to pass what lawmakers left undone in their allotted time.
ST. PAUL - The Minnesota Legislature has built a reputation for chaotic endings, followed by a special session to pass what lawmakers left undone in their allotted time.
Sunday’s midnight deadline continued legislators’ chaos tradition, but the question is whether Gov. Mark Dayton will call a special session to get $1 billion for transportation and other public works projects.
Dayton, the only person who can call a special session, said Monday that he is thinking about his next step. “Whether or not there will be special session, I can’t say.”
In their final hours in regular session Sunday, legislators passed a bill cutting taxes nearly $260 million and raising general state spending $167 million. But they missed their deadline to approve spending by about $1 billion to repair state buildings, fix roads, replace bridges, prevent floods, make railroad crossings safer and any number of other public works projects.
House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, told his members to stay in St. Paul and he asked Dayton to call a special session before Wednesday, when the House chamber no longer will be available as the Capitol building closes so workers may complete extensive renovation work.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, meanwhile, said he would give Dayton time to consider the budget and tax bills, then talk to the Democratic governor about a special session.
Dayton said he is not sure when a special session would be called, or even if he will schedule one. He said that once he receives copies of the bills lawmakers passed Sunday, he will decide whether to sign them, but he appeared to lean toward approval. Then he will turn attention to a potential special session.
The 11-week regular session was a mixture of wins and losses for all sides in the Legislature. But the wins were soiled by a messy session end.
Legislators have known since they arrived in St. Paul early last year that high priorities would be to add $6 billion over 10 years to transportation funding and borrow money for public works projects statewide. Daudt said that he and Bakk reached a deal to combine the two issues into one bill at 7 p.m. Sunday, but most legislators and the public did not know about it until an hour before the Sunday midnight deadline to pass bills.
Amid the confusion as the clock ticked to midnight, Daudt and Bakk apparently misunderstood whether their agreement included allowing Hennepin County to take on more debt to finance a passenger light rail line through the southwestern Twin Cities.
Bakk, who said he thought he and Daudt agreed to the provision, allowed the bonding-transportation bill to be amended to include that. But the House went ahead and adjourned for the year, leaving the House and Senate with differing versions of the legislation minutes before midnight.
The Senate could not remove the amendment by midnight and it, too, adjourned.
“I am very, very disappointed,” Bakk said, adding that the future of the public works projects is in Dayton’s hands.
While Bakk was content with waiting a while for a special session decision, Daudt said that he feared as time passes there will be too much pressure to throw more things into the bill.
“The agreement on this bonding bill ... I believe it is a fragile situation right now,” Daudt said. “If we start from square one ... I fear that this bill will fall apart.”
Dayton said that if he calls a special session that he was not ready to promise to use the Sunday bill as basis for what would be considered whenever he calls lawmakers back.
The governor, speaker and majority leader all used the term “disappointed” Monday when discussing the session. But Bakk and Daudt, especially, declared the session a success because of things like providing tax cuts, adding $35 million to broadband expansion efforts, spending $25 million to pre-kindergarten programs and appropriating $35 million to reduce financial disparities between black and white Minnesotans.
Those watching the process were divided on the session’s success.
For the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, adding $20 million in Local Government Aid to cities was good news.
“LGA is the cornerstone of a strong rural city.” Le Sueur Mayor Robert Broeder said. “With this funding increase, the Legislature has proven that LGA remains a critical program for greater Minnesota communities.”
On the other hand, Broeder said, a special session is needed to fund public works projects, including water and sewer treatment plants.
House Democrats, meanwhile, said that even if the late-Sunday bill had passed, it mistakenly left out millions of dollars’ worth of projects, including a Duluth heating project, a Hermantown health and wellness center and a food bank in Polk County.
The compromise public works bill featured more than $700 million for state and local road and bridge work, Daudt said. That is threatened, he added, because Democrats are pushing for the light rail line.
Dayton complained that House Republicans left off his top bonding priority, constructing a new University of Minnesota health center in the Twin Cities. He blamed some Republicans who showed “petty vindictiveness” toward the university.
But some of the governor’s priorities were in the bill.
An $800 million House bill, that failed by a dozen votes, was to borrow money to fund railroad overpasses in Red Wing and Coon Rapids. The Sunday night legislation added more than $30 million in cash for a complicated Moorhead rail crossing.