Dayton eyes Friday for special session 

Published 10:30 am Thursday, June 11, 2015

ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Legislature appears set to finish passing the state budget Friday, but there is less certainty than in many past special sessions when outcomes were foregone conclusions.

“I cannot guarantee any of these bills will pass,” Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, said Wednesday afternoon. “And if they don’t, we’re going to go back to work.”

He said that he is not even sure the session will come off on Friday, as Gov. Mark Dayton wants.

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A bill funding agriculture and environmental programs is especially questionable. While the ag part of the bill faces little opposition, liberals and conservatives have problems with the environmental part of the legislation: the left saying provisions do not go far enough to protect the environment and the right saying they go too far.

Dayton and four legislative leaders plan to meet Thursday to officially set the agenda for a special session, allowing the governor to schedule it.

With it expected to be Friday, House and Senate finance committees scheduled a 4 p.m. Thursday meeting to look through the agriculture and jobs bill.

Bakk said he has heard from many senators who simply want to get the budget finished, but the success of the special session may depend on who shows up.

Four or five in the Senate Democratic caucus alone could be gone, Bakk said. The same will be true throughout the Legislature as members follow through with previously made summer plans. With some bills expected to have close votes, the outcome could depend on whether supporters or opponents are gone.

Bakk said he does not plan to strong-arm members into supporting any of the bills.

Details of three vetoed budget bills have been worked out and legislators are ready with two other spending measures, leaving only the formality of four legislative leaders and Dayton signing an agreement on the special legislative session’s agenda.

Deputy Chief of Staff Linden Zakula of Dayton’s office said that if the remaining budget bills fail to pass, the Dayton administration would continue making plans for a partial government shutdown on July 1, including going to court to keep essential employees on duty even without money.

Bills special session will consider

•Education: About $17 billion will be spent for early childhood-through-high school education. While Gov. MarkDayton did not get his universal 4-year-old education plan enacted, the Legislature plans to provide more money for early childhood education.

•Economic development-energy: The Department of Employment and Economic Development is to receive $228 million, Housing Finance Agency $102 million, Explore Minnesota Tourism $28 million, Labor and Industry Department $48 million, Mediation Services Bureau $2 million, Workers Compensation Appeals Court $3.5 million, Commerce Department $55 million and Public Utilities Commission $14 million. (These figures are tentative; the updated bill was not available when this list was compiled.)

•Agriculture-environment: Agriculture Department would receive $87 million, Board of Animal Health $10.7 million, Agricultural Utilization Research Institute, $7.3 million. The avian influenza fight would get nearly $11 million, with another $10 million from the Rural Finance Authority to provide low-interest loans for farmers with flocks impacted by avian flu. The major environmental spending will be $187 million for the Pollution Control Agency and $526 million for the Department of Natural Resources.

•Public works: A public works finance bill, with money raised by the state selling bonds, would provide $180 million in projects to be repaid by general state taxes. Overall, the legislation would spend $373 million with some bonds repaid by other taxes, such as the gasoline tax for transportation projects.

•Legacy funding: Set to be spent is $98 million on outdoor, $228 million for clean water, $89 million for parks and trails and $125 million for arts and culture projects from a sales tax increase voters approved in 2008.

•Revisor’s bill: Legislation that normally simply corrects spelling and other errors in already-passed bills, the revisor’s bill this year is expected to have a more interesting provision. House Speaker Kurt Daudt says a drafting error on a bill funding several state agencies would cause the state auditor to lose her auditing authority on July 1. He said that the revisor’s bill will restore the authority. The issue is separate from a dispute about whether the auditor should give up power to audit county books, a controversy that held up scheduling the special session.