More talks, but no progress for special legislative session

Published 10:51 am Thursday, June 16, 2016

ST. PAUL — Hopes of quickly calling Minnesota lawmakers back for a special session faded Wednesday, as legislative leaders emerged from the latest round of private negotiations reporting little progress toward a deal.

The Legislature adjourned late last month without passing a $1 billion package of public construction projects, immediately prompting talk of an overtime session. Gov. Mark Dayton’s veto of a $260 million tax relief bill added to the pile of unfinished work left to tackle.

Dayton said Wednesday he and fellow Democrats are working to find a compromise on funding mass transit projects around Minneapolis, a major sticking point that prompted the so-called bonding bill’s failure in the session’s final moments. But he noted the vast differences between the two parties haven’t narrowed since late May: Democrats still insist that funding is essential, while Republicans reject it as unnecessary and unpopular.

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“We’re not anywhere near being able to call a special session,” he said. The two sides are expected to meet again next week.

Dayton and House Republicans are also torn about the final size of the public works bill, with the governor pushing for a larger package to accommodate projects such as a new building on the University of Minnesota campus and improvements at the state’s security hospital. Dayton has vowed he won’t call lawmakers back to St. Paul until they meet those demands.

But Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt said the largest hurdle to getting a special session deal is the proposed light-rail train to southwestern Minneapolis suburbs, a small part of the $1 billion package that would also pay for road and bridge repairs across Minnesota, water quality improvement measures and other basic infrastructure. With that dispute in mind, the speaker said he doubts they could return for a special session by the end of the month, as Dayton had hoped.

“We’re kind of at a standoff on that issue,” Daudt said of the train funding. “It’s going to be difficult to get something done before July 1.”