Lawmakers not very optimistic for special session

Published 10:27 am Thursday, July 7, 2016

Two local politicians are becoming less optimistic about a possible legislative session to pass a transportation/bonding bill.

District 27A Rep. Peggy Bennett, R-Albert Lea, said on Friday that her hopes of a special session are diminishing the longer it gets from late May’s adjournment of the session.

A $1 billion-plus package of public works projects and a major transportation funding bill — a top priority for the last two years — both failed to pass this year.

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District 27 Sen. Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin, said the Senate DFL caucus met last week to discuss a possible legislative session, noting he thinks it will be tougher the longer the Legislature goes into July without calling a special session.

Unfinished business includes increases in local government aid — which could have meant an additional $168,000 for Austin — funding to upgrade wastewater treatment facilities, and potential support for Austin waterways projects.

Sparks said he would be in support of the passing of a bonding bill that includes the local projects.

The bonding bill included $7.5 million for Riverland Community College’s Albert Lea campus and funding for sewer infrastructure renovation in the Stables area.

Ryan Nolander, executive director of the Albert Lea Economic Development Agency, said that he hopes a bonding bill is passed if a special session is convened to fund the local projects.

He said a budget bill Gov. Mark Dayton signed included some cuts to statewide economic development incentives to help fund other initiatives he had.

“There has been concern raised about these cuts and I would hope that they might be addressed if there was to be a special session,” Nolander said.

A tax bill that includes tax relief for farmers, college graduates, families, small businesses, veterans and child care was vetoed at the end of the legislative session by Dayton.

The tax bill was vetoed due to a drafting error that Dayton said put more than $100 million in taxes on charitable gambling in jeopardy. The state is counting on that money to help pay its share of the Minnesota Vikings’ new stadium.

Sparks said he was more optimistic of the chances of a special session a couple of weeks ago, noting he thinks Dayton has signaled his willingness to compromise on his original bonding request. Sparks said the onus on a special session falls on all lawmakers.

“I think we all need to compromise and get the bills done,” he said, noting that he thinks not passing the bonding/transportation bill or tax bill will set the state back.

Bennett expressed frustration at a Southwest Light Rail amendment added to the bonding bill on the last day of the legislative session, noting she wanted the amendment to be debated on its own merit.

“Why not come together on the things we can all agree on?” she said.

She said a compromise was reached on the $990 million bonding bill, noting she thinks the bill fell apart with political game playing.

“I just don’t think that’s right,” she said.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.

About Sam Wilmes

Sam Wilmes covers crime, courts and government for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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