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Special Session: Tax, bonding issues are urgent

With the conundrum of paying for needed light rail in the Twin Cities now out of the legislative negotiations for a special session, it's time for Gov. Mark Dayton and the House GOP leadership to come to an agreement and convene the session to provide tax relief and bonding for all of Minnesota

We agree with the frequent GOP ally, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, in calling for an immediate special session to provide tax relief and bonding projects.

The chamber issued a statement Aug. 25 saying once the funding of the Southwest Light Rail Transit project moved out of the legislative arena, legislators and the governor should convene a special session.

While Minnesota Chamber President Doug Loon urged the Legislature to approve a comprehensive funding package that "includes roads, bridges and transit," noting that was the best way to consider light rail projects or other transit projects in the Twin Cities, he also urged contingencies.

"However, any move to fund the Southwest Light Rail Transit line outside of the legislative process should pave the way for a special session to take care of unfinished business of the 2016 legislative session to the benefit of all Minnesotans. That is what Minnesotans expect."

We couldn't agree more.

Now, it appears that the Metropolitan Council and metro area county railroad authorities have strung together needed funding for the project without going through the Legislature. So we agree with the chamber that now the session should begin.

Loon also noted, importantly, in his written statement: "If they don't take advantage of this opportunity, any move to fund SWLRT outside of the legislative process will be viewed as purely political posturing. It risks driving a deeper wedge in today's partisan divide."

While a spokesman said the chamber was not "singling out anyone," it's clear the onus is on Dayton and GOP House Speaker Kurt Daudt to come to agreement on the special session. That should be easier now that the light rail transit issue is not a barrier.

Loon notes that tax relief and long-term transportation funding, including transit, are top priorities for the state's business communities. Faltering on those issues now would be a blow to those businesses, who impact local economies all over the state.

But cities around the state also will suffer with no tax or bonding bill this fall. Many are preparing to raise their property tax levies anticipating they will not get increases in local government aid or other tax relief in the stalled tax bill. Cities from Windom to Ely will have to raise property taxes more than expected had the tax bill been approved, according to the Star Tribune.

In Madelia, where the city and businesses are suffering from a February fire that destroyed much of its downtown, they're waiting on a $1.2 million grant in the tax bill that will help rebuild.

With the roadblock of light rail out of the picture, it's time for Dayton and Daudt to get the people's business done and get it done quickly.