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Don't hold your breath waiting for a special session in Minnesota

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, seen here in this file photo, said Friday that the bonding bill and the tax bill are now off the table. Forum News Service

The chances of a special session in Minnesota slipped away in the dust of political battle Friday, leaving behind the corpses of tax relief for the middle class, a bonding bill to keep state buildings in good repair, and health insurance relief for those hit by sky-high MNsure premiums.

DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican Kurt Daudt, speaker of the Minnesota House, held dueling press conferences Friday, Dec. 16, each casting blame on the other.

While the two were set to meet at 2 p.m., it was clear from Daudt's comments that no special session is going to be forthcoming, barring a Christmas miracle.

He said he is "hopeful, but not optimistic" that the two would reach an agreement.

He castigated Dayton for inviting the media to their talk.

"It's sure to be a circus," he said. "It shows he doesn't want a special session, he wants to blame me for it."

Dayton told reporters Friday that the bonding bill and the tax bill are now off the table, and any special session would focus exclusively on health care premium relief for MNsure shoppers.

He read from a letter he received from a Minnesota man with cancer, whose wife has multiple sclerosis and who has a daughter in college. "I'm scratching my head with how I'm going to afford healthcare — I need help," he wrote.

The premium relief plan involves issuing rebates to an estimated 123,000 Minnesotans facing steep health insurance premium hikes, but who make too much to qualify for federal tax credits.

Dayton said his plan provides "immediate financial assistance to people" and will cost no more than $313 million, now earmarked for the state's "rainy-day" fund.

For a family of four in Rochester, projected monthly premiums for the second-lowest cost plan would be $2,378 before the rebate, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Dayton's plan would reduce that cost by $594. For a family of four in the metro area purchasing a similar plan, monthly premiums would be $1,652.

Daudt said he never liked the plan, which he said is tied to the failing Affordable Care Act.

"His premium relief plan is a bad plan, it fits right in with MNsure," he said. "It lacks ambition to solve the problem."

And he said it would fail to keep patients connected to their existing medical network.

He favors provisions that would provide "continuity of care," to, for example, a cancer patient being treated at the Mayo Clinic.

Dayton said Republicans must have known he could never support the changes they made to the original premium relief proposal, and that it would be a deal-breaker.

Daudt, in turn, accused Dayton of making changes to the bonding bill that Republicans could not support.

The fate of the special session is a reversal from a meeting on Dec. 2, when Dayton said all four leaders of the House and Senate and the governor met and tentatively agreed on a special session for the bonding bill, tax bill and premium relief bill.

Dayton said it's important to pass the premium relief bill in a special session so MNsure shoppers can plan accordingly now before signing up for the coming year.

Daudt said it wouldn't matter, since the plan doesn't go into effect until March.

If a special session falls through, Republicans will work on fixing the health insurance issues in regular session next year, Daudt said.

"All we're asking for is 90 days, that will give us time to work on this and to fix this," he said. "We want the governor to think outside the box and do things that will actually help people..."

If the special session falls through, Daudt said, there will be no bonding bill for at least a year.

But he promised the Republican-led House and Senate will take up a premium relief-type bill the first week of the regular session, which starts Jan. 3.