Special session means 2nd chance for some interests

Published 9:49 am Thursday, May 21, 2015

ST. PAUL — Now that Minnesota lawmakers will be pulled back into action, the second-chance stampede is on.

Groups with a gripe about the budget are trying to get in on the special session provoked by a promised veto of a $17 billion education spending plan, and some want Gov. Mark Dayton to veto other bills too.

Mark Dayton

Mark Dayton

Environmental groups want a replacement budget without regulatory oversight changes they oppose. Capitol custodians need a borrowing bill to get extra money for a renovation project. Rural city interests say workforce housing project tax credits and other items in a stalled tax bill should get traction.

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By all accounts, the education budget is tops on a special session to-do list. It won’t be called until Dayton and legislative leaders, particularly from the House GOP, reach accord on new school spending and the shape of expanded early childhood initiatives. It could take weeks to sort out, and there’s still uncertainty about where it will be held given the Capitol’s closure for construction.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt and Dayton both said they’d like to revive a public construction package and a budget bill for the arts and environmental projects. Daudt noted Wednesday those bills carry money necessary to implement the governor’s plan to strengthen buffer zones between crops and public waterways. And the public construction bonding bill also includes flood relief funding and money to cover cost overruns in the Capitol’s ongoing renovations.

But the list won’t end there.

Dayton already is fielding requests from environmental advocates to add to his veto pile and strike down an environmental budget. With his buffer plan and aid to farmers affected by bird flu, Steve Morse of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership acknowledged it’d be a hard veto to stomach.

“They put in things that are really needed … and then stick some really toxic provisions with those things that are good,” Morse said. “The governor can’t let them get away with that type of gamesmanship.”

His group objects to a measure that abolishes a citizen review board at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. House Republicans labeled that board unnecessary, but Morse said it’s a critical outlet for Minnesota residents to keep an eye on the agency. The environmental partnership also took issue with the budget drawing down an environmental cleanup fund for landfills.

House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said he hoped Dayton would veto an economic development and energy bill that was passed with no time to spare on the last night. Democrats are upset over changes to energy policy and other grant provisions on that bill, but it also contains items they back — emergency money for avian flu response and unemployment benefits for idled steelworkers.

Thissen said a higher education bill that doesn’t include enough money for a continued college tuition freeze is another redo candidate.

“We have the opportunity to hit the reset button,” he said.

Dayton has stayed tight-lipped about what other bills he may strike down — those decisions should come later this week, he said. But he sounded a note of caution about sending bills back to lawmakers when the GOP controls the House. They could come back from a special session in worse shape, he said.

“It’s not like we can go back and get a better bill,” Dayton said.

Despite calls from outside groups and his own caucus to revive a tax bill in a special session, Daudt said he wouldn’t put tax cuts back on the table in a third round of negotiations with the governor on education funding.

Instead, he said negotiations around education should pick up where they left off from a last-ditch attempt to avert a special session before Monday’s legislative deadline. Dayton had dropped his insistence for his prized preschool program, but the two sides couldn’t finalize a deal over the final cost and questions of whether early education instructors should be licensed teachers.

But organizations representing rural Minnesota towns are hoping to reboot the stalled tax bill in a special session, hoping it can deliver more aid to smaller cities in greater Minnesota and offer up tax credits to build workforce housing. Dan Dorman, executive director of the Greater Minnesota Partnership, said a special session gives lawmakers an extra shot to deliver on campaign promises of addressing rural Minnesota’s needs.

“We just look at it as an opportunity to try to take a plain outcome and actually turn it into that greater Minnesota session that was talked about five months ago,” he said.