Minnesota lawmakers could be spending part of their Christmas week at the Capitol.

Top legislators and DFL Gov. Mark Dayton have circled Dec. 20 — give or take a day — as the target date for a special session on health care cost relief and passage of overdue tax and construction bills. They haven’t nailed down all of the details but the state leaders said after a meeting Friday that they’re close.

“We’ve seen in the past with discussions about special sessions that the details are determinative and not always favorable, but we’ll see what happens this time and we’ll go from there,” Dayton said after the hourlong discussion with a bipartisan assembly of legislators and key staff.

“I’ve been in the room when the deal happens and I feel like I can see it,” said Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt. “I don’t know we’re quite there yet.”

Top on the to-do list is a rebate plan for people who buy health insurance on the individual market and are experiencing steep increases in premiums. Dayton has proposed a 25 percent rebate for those who aren’t eligible for other subsidies, a plan that could cost up to $300 million. But Republicans insist that issues with dwindling access to providers in some parts of the state also be addressed.

The other two docket items are holdovers from the 2016 session, when the Legislature and Dayton failed to complete a tax plan with various relief elements and a borrowing bill to finance public works projects.

Daudt said it makes sense to have those on the agenda.

“I look at it as we still have two pieces of unfinished business from last year,” Daudt said. “And I’ve actually been an advocate for having a special session including those two pieces. Because I want to get last year’s business wrapped up, so on January 3rd when we come in for our next session with a little different-looking Legislature, we can start with a clean slate.”

The outgoing Minnesota Senate majority leader says dozens of public construction projects would be dealt a setback if the Legislature doesn’t meet in a special session.

Democrat Tom Bakk of Cook and his party will be in the minority starting in January, and borrowing bills require super-majorities to pass. The conventional wisdom is that bonding bills will be slimmer once Republicans assume total control.

“I do think if we don’t get this billion dollars of construction out the door, it’s pretty unlikely in a budget year that we’re going to put together a billion dollar bonding bill at the end of session, very unlikely based on my experience here,” Bakk said, adding that it is important to “close the loop” for lawmakers who worked hard to advance their proposals last session.

Republican House leaders say they’re on board with including tax-cut and construction bills in a potential special session.

One lingering question? Where the session would be held. The under-construction Capitol isn’t due to be open for occupancy until January, so the Legislature could have to meet in temporary quarters in their respective office buildings if the renovation timeline isn’t accelerated.

  1. Listen MPR News reporter Tim Pugmire on the state budget forecast

    Dec. 2, 2016

Minnesota finance officials said Friday the state will have plenty of money to work with in the next two-year budget cycle.

A report issued by the Department of Minnesota Management and Budget said that although the state took in less money than expected over the past few months, it has been partially offset by reduced spending. The current biennium is now projected to end with a balance of $678 million, after $334 million goes into the budget reserve.

That means the governor and lawmakers will have $1.4 billion to work with over the next two years.

Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Myron Frans called the bottom line number “boring,” because the budget outlook is stable, lacking the big swings to the good or bad that have marked previous state financial checkups.

“At MMB my colleagues and I love boring as opposed to unanticipated deficits,” he said. “We will take a boring forecast any day if the alternative is instability.”

The surplus could be devoted to tax cuts, expanded preschool programs or road construction. The fate of those ideas – and much more – will be the focus of the upcoming legislative session, when DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and a Republican-dominated Legislature work on a new two-year budget.

Frans warned that a slowing national economy could mean lower tax collections for Minnesota in the future.

In reacting to the forecast, Dayton noted the turnaround in Minnesota’s financial picture since he took office six years ago when there was a projection of a $6 billion deficit.  He said it makes sense to be prudent about setting the next budget.

“What this forecast says to me is that we’re in a time of continued economic insecurity,” Dayton said. “Obviously these projections occurred before the election, and nobody knows what those impacts will be.”

Another forecast will come in February or March, and the Legislature will use that outlook to set its final budget plan. The budget must be approved by June 30 to avoid a government shutdown.

Lawmakers will also have to assess how to cover the cost of an emergency health insurance rebate for people seeing huge jumps in their monthly premiums. Dayton’s proposal for that would consume as much as $300 million.

Republicans say they want to claw back the money headed to the reserves to cut taxes. They want another pool of money, the state health care access fund, to cover Dayton’s rebate plan.

“Nobody is going to get 100 percent of what they want. That’s the reality of divided government,” said House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Zimmerman.

“We’re going to talk about our priorities which are going to be focused on helping Minnesota families, and the governor is going to talk about his priorities. Somehow, we’re going to have to mesh that together. If the governor understands and is willing to compromise, if he doesn’t walk out on Minnesotans at the end of session, then we’re going to have a successful end of session,” Daudt said.



Good morning and welcome to Friday. State finance officials will release the latest revenue forecast later today, which will give Gov. Mark Dayton and the Legislature an idea of how much money they have to work with as they begin the 2017 session. We’ll follow it throughout the day. In the meantime, here’s the Digest.

1. Minnesota Republicans are riding high after big general election wins by state legislative candidates and a stronger than expected showing in Minnesota by President-elect Donald Trump. Party leaders are now trying to make sure those Trump-inspired voters stick around and remain active. Some of the Trump supporters say they’re not interested in backing a candidate for governor in 2018 who didn’t support Trump this year. (MPR News)

2. A lot of GOP candidates for the Legislature used Democrats’ support for a new Senate office building against them in the past couple elections. Now that Republicans are about to control the Senate again, they’ve started moving into their new offices in the building. And some are even willing to admit it’s got a pretty nice view. (MPR News)

3. St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman says he won’t run for re-election next year and will leave city hall after serving three terms. Coleman is widely  thought to be interested in a run for governor in 2018, but he says he’s not ready to announce yet. Former council members Melvin Carter III and Pat Harris, as well as former school board member Tom Goldstein have expressed interest in running to replace Coleman as mayor. (Pioneer Press)

4. Keith Ellison may have lost a key ally in his effort to become chair of the Democratic National Committee. The chair of the Anti-Defamation League is taking issue with remarks Ellison made about Israel in 2010. Jonathan Greenblatt cited a speech Ellison gave where he said, “The United States foreign policy in the Middle East is governed by what is good or bad through a country of 7 million people. A region of 350 million all turns on a country of 7 million. Does that make sense? Is that logic? Right? When the Americans who trace their roots back to those 350 million get involved, everything changes.” Ellison responded with an open letter saying that statement was selectively edited and taken out of context. (Politico)

5. The price of keeping those Carrier jobs in Indianapolis is becoming clearer. The state incentives add up to $7 million over 10 years. From this story: “1,000 jobs is less than 0.01 percent of the manufacturing jobs in the U.S. Moreover, the country still has about 1.5 million fewer manufacturing jobs than it did prior to the recession. Trump faces a reality that journalists have pointed out over and over, both during this campaign and during the earlier years of the Obama presidency: manufacturing jobs aren’t coming back, at least not to anywhere near their prior highs.” (NPR)

6. The president-elect’s choice for defense secretary is retired Marine General James Mattis. He led the United States Central Command from 2010 to 2013. It oversees military operations in the Middle East and Southwest Asia. The Obama administration believed he was too hawkish on Iran, but he also disagrees with some of Trump’s positions, including that torture is effective and that working more closely with Russia is a good idea. Because he so recently retired from the military, Congress would have to grant a special waiver to approve his appointment. (New York Times)