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Train derails special session plans

ST. PAUL -- Farmers can forget about tax breaks to lighten their burden in funding new schools. Drivers on some of Minnesota's most dangerous highways will not see immediate safety improvements. New state aid cities expected is not coming.

ST. PAUL -- Farmers can forget about tax breaks to lighten their burden in funding new schools. Drivers on some of Minnesota's most dangerous highways will not see immediate safety improvements. New state aid cities expected is not coming.

Those are three of many issues impacted as Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton and legislative leaders failed to agree on a special session agenda. As it has been since the regular session adjourned in May, the final stumbling block was whether to build a light rail project in the southwestern Twin Cities.

"I've concluded ... I am not going to call a special session," Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton said Thursday following a brief negotiation session.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said the GOP is disappointed there will be no special session because Minnesotans will miss out on $500 million of tax cuts and nearly $1 billion in funding for public works projects, including $700 million for road and bridge work.

Dayton vetoed the $800 million tax bill, much of which would trim taxes, after a $100 million error was found.

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Besides cutting farm owners' property taxes that go to building new schools, the tax bill would have provided tax relief to college students, veterans, parents and other Minnesotans.

Nearly $1 billion in public construction projects died in the final minutes of the regular legislative session over the southwestern Twin Cities light rail dispute that eventually derailed the special session.

The public works bill would have paid $700 million for road and bridge improvements, focused on some of the state's most dangerous highways. The rest would have gone to hundreds of projects across the state, including improving water and sewer systems and fixing state-owned buildings.

The two bills had strong bipartisan support, but the southwest light rail project long has divided Democrats, who support it to improve the economy and relief traffic congestion, and Republicans, who say it is a waste of money and has not been properly vetted.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, said he gave Daudt options to fund light rail that Republicans might be able to stomach. However, Bakk said, "they have made no kind of a counter offer of any kind."

Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said he questions the process Democrats used to advance light rail. It received little attention during the regular session, he said, despite the fact that it would require four times the public investment that the long-debated Vikings stadium received.

"It is past the point where we can have any more fruitful discussions," Dayton said, with the 2017 regular session due to begin in January.

The lack of a special session will play big in this year's elections, although the speaker and governor said they have not made decisions based on the fall vote, in which all 201 legislative seats are on the ballot but not Dayton.

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House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, D-Minneapolis, said it was a "disappointing day."

He turned his attention to the fall elections. "A House DFL majority will bring a robust bonding bill and middle class tax relief to the House floor for a vote in the first 30 days of the next legislative session," Thissen said.

"It’s disappointing the governor and Senate insist on another light rail train instead of agreeing to re-pass middle class tax relief and road and bridge funding," Rep. Ron Kresha, R-Little Falls, said. "In our area, for example, we would have seen an investment in an emergency response training center for oil train derailment."

Daudt says he has a good relationship with Dayton, but had harsh words for the governor after the announcement there would be no special session. "What I am seeing here, frankly, is sandbox politics. ... We shouldn't throw our sucker in the sand and then go away."

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