Special session tentatively set in August

If there’s a special session next month - one that fixes Minnesota roads and bridges and cuts taxes - you can thank the BLT’s.

That was the private lunch menu last week that led to a negotiation session today.  Governor Dayton and legislative leaders emerged from that two hour meeting with smiles. More notably, they emerged together.

“The last time we met, it didn’t end the best,” noted House Speaker Kurt Daudt.  That may be an understatement.  At previous meetings to try to hammer out a special session deal, they came out separately, roundly criticized the other, then stomped off.

This time, they set the tentative session for the third week of August, providing they can get conference committees together in the meantime to work out the bills, and providing the legislators can get to St. Paul.

“Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” said Governor Mark Dayton after the meeting. “And I think the will is there to work these details out and have a special session and pass the tax and bonding bills.”

The regular session ended in late May with the bonding bill going unresolved in the final hours.  Republicans in the House passed a bill totaling just under a billion dollars, but it didn’t have some of the governor’s top priorities.  And when it went to the Senate, it got a very controversial project added on that ensured it wouldn’t get passed again back in the House - the proposed Southwest Light Rail line.

While it still remains a sticking point in the special session, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk today said, “I think we’ll find some resolution to that.”  He said there are some funding alternatives they’re exploring and “it seems like there’s a path there.”

The $1.7 billion dollar project is funded except for the state’s portion, which is ten percent of the total cost.  But until that final chunk of money is found, federal funding of nearly $900 million is withheld.

“It is a controversial project,” said Daudt. “We are working through that. it’s one of the complexities we haven’t worked out. I think we need some input from people outside this building.”

The special session will also tackle the bonding bill that Dayton pocket vetoed, leaving it to expire unsigned because of a wording error that could have cost the state a lot of money.

How did they come together?  Governor Dayton agreed to drop his request for additional spending in the bonding bill.  In return, Daudt agreed to include many of Dayton’s top priorities in the bill, which he’d like to hold to the billion dollar number they’d reached in the waning hours of the regular session.

Daudt said the turning point is when Dayton called him on the 4th of July and asked to meet for lunch.  They did, the very next day, at the governor’s mansion, and over BLT sandwiches, forged the common ground that brought them together now.

“And the first time really since the end of the regular session,” said Dayton, “I believe a special session is very doable.”