Dayton: Transportation doubtful in special session

Updated 2 p.m. with Daudt comments

The final bills passed in a late legislative flurry reached Gov. Mark Dayton on Tuesday as he weighs whether to summon lawmakers back to the Capitol to consider items they left unfinished.

Dayton said he would decide by week’s end the fate of a 600-page budget bill and a companion tax-cut measure. Meanwhile, he offered a discouraging take on the likelihood of imminent action on transportation spending.

In an interview with MPR News, Dayton said he would prefer that the Legislature act independently on transportation and general public works borrowing if he does call a special session. He said he wants a long-term plan to address transportation, not the temporary one that emerged in the final hours before adjournment.

“Everybody knew what the situation was. Everybody agreed that it required $600 million a year in new revenue each year for 10 years to do what needs to be done to improve Minnesota’s highway and transit systems. And they couldn’t agree on it during that period of time,” Dayton said. “I think it’s unrealistic to think they’re going to agree on something before or during a very short one-day special session, if there were one.”

A hybrid transportation and bonding bill failed in the closing minutes of the session when Senate Democrats added language permitting greater local funding for the Southwest Corridor light rail project. The House adjourned before reconsidering it.

Dayton said he hasn’t ruled out anything in a possible special session. But he said it’s more likely a bonding bill could be considered rather than a transportation bill if he does call lawmakers back.

Untangling the two could be difficult because the road spending helped make the broader borrowing bill attractive to some House Republicans. A bonding bill requires a three-fifths majority to pass because the state incurs debt.

On WCCO Radio, House Speaker Kurt Daudt said Tuesday that all of the legislative leaders need to meet soon with Dayton to figure out a path ahead. Daudt, R-Zimmerman, said straying too far from the proposal in play on the session’s final night would make passage difficult.

“I would encourage him not to overplay his hand because it will fall apart and we could have nothing,” Daudt said of the governor.

Meanwhile House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, sent a letter to Daudt suggesting that all leadership meetings leading up to a special session be public, that bills be discussed in open conference committee meetings and that final versions of any bills be released 24 hours in advance of a vote.

Thissen took issue with Daudt’s comments to reporters that Daudt didn’t know about the amendment on LRT funding the Senate was going to add to the bonding bill in the closing minutes of the session. Thissen contends Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, told Daudt in a private meeting that Thissen attended that the language had to be in the bill, and that Daudt did not object.

As the leaders tussle, pressure has begun building among groups that have a stake in the bills that didn’t get done.

A coalition of groups that includes road contractors, construction workers and others publicly pressed for a special session.

“It is unacceptable that legislators had 18 months to complete their work, yet waited until the bitter end of the 2016 session to attempt a deal,” wrote the co-chairs of Progress in Motion, Margaret Donahoe and Tim Worke. “Without much needed new funding, Minnesotans can expect continued congestion around the Twin Cities, more deaths on unsafe rural roads like Highway 12, deteriorating bridges around the state and unfinished freight corridors like Highways 14, 23, 212 and I-94 between the Twin Cities and St. Cloud.”

The Association of Minnesota Counties added its voice to the push.

“The longer we wait to fully address our needs for transportation, the costs and risks to Minnesotans only grow higher,” said association president Jack Swanson. “We can no longer afford to continue to kick the can down the road because eventually we’ll run out of road.”

In the batch of bills Dayton received Tuesday is a police body camera regulations bill. While Dayton, through aides, has previously pledged to sign it, he has heard from groups who see the limitations on footage as too restrictive. He said he hasn’t decided whether to sign or veto it.

  • Gary F

    Sounds like those roads and bridges are awfully important. So important I would think no one would jeopardize it by trying to jam SWLT into the bill.

    • wjc

      To the tune of “Rawhide”:

      Trollin’. Trollin’. Trollin’. Keep that Gary trollin’.

    • Fred

      Well it worked for Sen. Bakk when he jammed the Senate Office Building into a bill at the last moment in the 2014 session. Not this time, though, and as a consequence the transportation bill didn’t get passed.