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Capitol Chatter: Dayton looks at special session again

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton listens to a question at the Star Tribune booth at the 2016 Minnesota State Fair. He said he still hopes he can call a special legislative session. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Minnesotans, those who care about such things at least, figured special legislative session talk was dead.

They could be wrong.

Gov. Mark Dayton said at the Minnesota State Fair that if local money could be found to support a southwestern Twin Cities light rail project, and the Legislature did not need to take action on the issue, he would talk to key lawmakers about calling a special session to take up a tax bill and funding public works projects.

Local governments last week finished finding $144.5 million, the local share of the $1.9 billion project that mostly relies on federal funds.

Before local officials took that action, Dayton sat on the Star Tribune State Fair booth's back porch, taking editorial writer and columnist Lori Sturdevant's questions.

The Democratic governor dropped the information that he may try again for a special session once the southwest rail issue was settled. It appeared he would have to wait until after Labor Day to try to restart talks because Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, was somewhere up north where there is no mobile telephone service.

Lawmakers passed a tax bill, including a variety of tax cuts, that contained a $100 million mistake. Dayton would not sign the measure with that size of an error, and wants lawmakers to fix the mistake and repass the bill.

Also on a special session agenda could be a bill funding construction projects at state-owned facilities, and perhaps some road and bridge projects as well.

Since special session talks broke down a couple of weeks ago, Republicans have hammered Dayton and other Democrats for killing the tax and public works bills to build a train. Now that the light rail may have found funding without legislative help, it may be hard for the GOP to turn down a special session offer.

Before light rail funding was approved, Rep. Dan Fabian, R-Roseau, strongly criticized Dayton for not calling a special session to fund water and sewage treatment projects.

"Gov. Dayton made a choice: He is blocking river clean up and the delivery of much-needed water to parts of southern Minnesota, and he is proceeding with a controversial train instead," Fabian said.

If no special session is possible, Dayton said that he will have a public works funding bill ready for lawmakers as soon as they come into session next Jan. 3, even though lawmakers seldom pass such bills early in their sessions.

'Pretty good moods'

A long-time State Fair veteran says Minnesotans visiting the state Senate booth are happy campers.

"People generally are in pretty good moods," Director Scott Magnuson of Minnesota Senate Information Office said.

When stadium funding debates and government shutdown talk flow from the Capitol, voters are not so happy, he said.

One of the most-discussed questions on a survey his office is taking this year is about whether muskies should be stocked in non-native waters. That may be a sign Minnesotans are not tuned into politics this year.

On the other hand, fair visitors are taking legislative surveys in record or near-record numbers. Magnuson said that many people visit the House and Senate booths every year as part of "their civic duty" to tell legislators their opinions on a variety of state issues.

More road money needed

State officials last year agreed $6 billion is needed to keep Minnesota's roads and bridges in good shape for the next decade.

Now, the Minnesota Department of Transportation says that between 2018 to 2037, the state "will suffer a shortfall of $18 billion of funding necessary to provide a highway system that addresses congestion, meets Minnesota business needs and supports quality of life throughout the state. This does not include additional funding to support local roads, transit and other forms of transportation."

Transportation Commissioner Charlie Zelle said MnDOT's planning process is "thorough and objective," trying to deflect likely Republican comments about the Dayton administration always wanting more money.

"It is clearly indicating that the growth in current revenue sources will not meet what we need to spend to provide a competitive system by 2037," Zelle said. "It is also clear that this number will only continue to rise if we as a state do not pass a comprehensive transportation funding plan."

Democrats, like Dayton, have called for a gasoline tax increase, while Republicans say the state collects enough money.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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