Legislators still at odds over lack of special session

Published 10:42 am Tuesday, August 30, 2016

State legislators are disappointed, but remain in disagreement as to why a special legislative session was not called this year to pass several major bills.

Minnesota’s top politicians struggled to reach agreement on an overtime session since the Legislature adjourned in late May, when lawmakers left a $1 billion-plus public works package unfinished. Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed a $260 million tax relief package, citing a wording error.

An ideological divide over funding a light-rail system to southwestern Minneapolis suburbs — a project that Democrats have deemed essential but Republicans dislike — proved too much.

Email newsletter signup

District 27A Rep. Peggy Bennett, R-Albert Lea, said she was disappointed that the tax bill and bonding and transportation bills did not pass, noting the tax bill included property tax relief for local farmers, tax relief for families, child care and assistance for students trying to pay off their loans.



Bennett said the bonding bill was solid, with a couple local projects included in it, such as $7.4 million to Riverland Community College to relocate existing truck driving and collision programs from Austin to Albert Lea.

Funding also would have allowed the programs to integrate into shared spaces with auto service and diesel programs. The second is money to extend sanitary sewer lines to the Stables area.

She attributed the failure of the Legislature to pass the bills to political game playing, noting her belief that a handful of metro legislators wanted to include the Southwest Light Rail provision that she said would not have made it on its own.

She said she was perplexed about why that provision foiled the legislative session.

“Why can’t we do the things that we all agree on?” Bennett said. “That is just ridiculous.”

She said she is proposing legislation to try to eliminate controversial items being placed in a large omnibus bill, something she said both parties do to pass controversial items.

In a letter to the editor to the Tribune in Monday’s newspaper, House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, derided Bennett for her stance.

“What she doesn’t say is that the proposal to fund light rail projects in the metro area would have been paid for entirely by the metro communities where the rail would be located,” he said. “Bennett will have to explain why refusing to allow metro counties to pay for their own transportation needs is more important than cutting taxes for families and investing in roads and bridges in her district and across the state.”

The two sides previously said they were closing in on a deal for a special session, penciling in a mid- to late August meeting as they worked to hammer out an agreement on funding the light-rail project. By Aug. 18, it was clear a solution wasn’t in sight.

District 27 Sen. Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin, said he, too, was disappointed there was no special session, noting his belief that the failure to pass the bills will cause the state to fall further behind on needed projects.He said it would have been easier for the Legislature to finish its business in its regular session rather than blaming the other party.

He said if re-elected, he will be a champion for local projects that were not funded this year, and added he expects Dayton to address similar bills next year.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said he was disappointed the special session was not called, noting he found out earlier this month that the federal government will not fund Southwest Light Rail until lawsuits into the proposed project are completed.

“We never fund projects when there are pending lawsuits,” he said, noting his belief that Dayton may have seen political benefit from not having the bills pass.

Daudt encouraged Dayton to come to the table so the Legislature could pass the bonding and tax bills, and questioned why Dayton wanted the Southwest Light Rail provision included when he knew the federal government would not fund the project until fall 2017 at the earliest.

In a statement released last week, Dayton denied that the Southwest Light Rail provision was the only disagreement over calling a special session.

“When our negotiations ended, there were still no agreements on the earmarking of 21 transportation projects, the renovation of historic Fort Snelling, additional staff for the safe operation of the St. Peter treatment facilities, and others,” Dayton said. “For three months, Senate DFL leaders and I offered different options to fund Metro Transit that involved no state monies. Speaker Daudt rejected them all. His intransigence is the principal reason there will be no special session.”

— The Associated Press contributed to this report

About Sam Wilmes

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

email author More by Sam