Dayton, GOP talk special session, but no one’s feeling special

Published 10:47 am Friday, January 29, 2016

By Tim Pugmire FM

Gov. Mark Dayton and legislative leaders are still mulling a possible special session, but even Dayton now acknowledges the prospects are fading.

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For months, the governor has said he wants lawmakers to return to St. Paul early to extend unemployment benefits for Iron Range miners. He also wants them to work on racial economic disparities and federal ID standards. House Republicans say it can all wait for the regular session in early March.

A quick agreement on anything looks unlikely right now.

Dayton and Senate Democrats want a 26-week benefit extension for laid-off steelworkers. But House Republicans are proposing just 13 weeks. They also want a tax break for businesses paying into the state’s unemployment insurance fund.

Dayton said he’s willing to consider that tax proposal in the regular session. But in the context of special session discussions, he calls it a “poison pill.” The DFL governor said he also objects to a House Republican proposal to include private school tax credits in an economy disparities package.

“If we got some real sincere cooperation from the House Republicans and a desire to really get this thing resolved to benefit people who’ve exhausted their unemployment benefits, or will, or to help people who are experiencing economy inequality, this session would have resolved a couple weeks ago,” Dayton said. “It’s still dragging on and on, and I’ve come to believe that that’s probably part of the strategy.”

Dayton said if House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, actually wants a special session then he needs to resolve the matters that are standing in the way of an agreement.

Daudt said it’s the governor who needs to do more.

“If he’s the one that wants a special session and thinks it’s so important, his actions need to match what his words are saying,” Daudt said. “His actions need to show that he has prepared for and is ready for a special session. His administration really hasn’t done the work to get ready. He expects us to do that, and then if we don’t end up having a special session, I think he wants to be able to blame somebody.”

Daudt said he’ll be ready to vote on an unemployment extension bill the first week of the regular session, which begins March 8.

On the racial economic disparities issue, Daudt defended the proposal for private school credits. He said there’s a direct connection between low wages and low student performance in minority communities.

“Long-term, that is the solution,” he said. “We have to solve the achievement gap to give these kids the opportunity to be successful throughout their whole life.”

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, is about the only one still optimistic about a special session. But even he thinks an agreement is unlikely on the economic disparity package.

Bakk said all sides agree on moving the state toward compliance with the federal Real ID law, but more work is needed on the unemployment issue.

On the benefit extension, Bakk said he still wants early action, which would help many people he represents in northeastern Minnesota.

“I just feel bad for those families right now that have exhausted their unemployment,” Bakk said. “They don’t know when they’re going back to work. The steel industry is still in tremendous unknown territory.”