Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Daudt spoke at the GOP state central committee in Lakeville on Saturday. Tim Pugmire | MPR News

Minnesota Republicans are still celebrating last month’s election success, but they’re also looking ahead to 2018.

Party activists gathered Saturday in Lakeville for a state central committee meeting, that included several speeches by GOP office holders who’ve been mentioned as possible candidates for governor in two years.

“I don’t have to tell you, but the next election has already started,” said Congressman Tom Emmer. “In 2018 we are going to once again elect a Republican governor in the great state of Minnesota.”

So far, no Republicans have announced their candidacy.

Hennepin County Sherriff Rich Stanek came close. He delivered a fiery campaign-style speech that praised president-elect Donald Trump, ripped political correctness and called for financial penalties for cities that don’t enforce immigration laws.

Stanek also stressed his history of winning as a Republican candidate in DFL-dominated metro precincts.

“So, it begins here now,” he said. ” We want to win this governor’s race in 2018 and beyond. Let’s go make it happen.”

House Speaker Kurt Daudt spent the past year campaigning on the need for political balance in St. Paul. But with DFL Gov. Mark Dayton not seeking re-election in 2018 and the GOP in control of the House and Senate, Daudt stressed the importance of winning the open seat and creating a new power dynamic.

“We need to make sure we earn the trust and confidence that Minnesotans have put in us, and we do everything we can to work together, better that we ever have before, to make sure we win the governor’s office in two years,” Daudt said. “We will have complete control of state government for the first time ever in the state of Minnesota.”

Republicans also heard from Congressman Erik Paulsen, and state party chair Keith Downey, who are also mentioned as potential candidates for governor.

Downey said he isn’t running for another term as chair. Without revealing any other plans, he acknowledged the speculation about whether he’ll run for governor.

“I have very intentionally at every step of the way involved a number of the other people whose names routinely appear on these lists, to make sure that everybody understands that what I’m doing over the next five months is to position the party, and whoever our nominee in 2018, for success,” Downey said.

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.