House DFL, Republican leaders throw blame after session

Published 11:02 am Friday, May 27, 2016

The House DFL leader called the Legislature’s failure to pass a bonding and transportation bill during this year’s legislative session a huge disappointment Wednesday.

Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, made the comment during a stop at the Tribune.

Thissen said there were multiple local projects included in the bonding bill that could have helped the Albert Lea area, such as the development of Bent Tree Trail and the Stables area project.

Paul Thissen

Paul Thissen

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He claimed the bonding bill had a number of mistakes and did not include what he called Gov. Mark Dayton’s top priority — an investment in the University of Minnesota health sciences building — noting he thinks Republicans’ animosity toward the University of Minnesota and  research and science was the reason.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt rejected Thissen’s assertion that Republicans had animosity toward the University of Minnesota, science or research, noting he thinks Thissen was attempting to cause controversy.

Daudt said road and bridge funding were top priorities this year, noting the investment this year would have jeopardized U.S. Highway 14 funding.

Thissen claimed Republicans tried to force through a bonding bill in the session’s final night.

Daudt cited bipartisan support for the bonding bill as proof that Republicans did not try to force it through.

Legislators did finish some major pieces of their plans to use a $900 million budget surplus, including a package of $260 million of tax credits and cuts to help

Kurt Daudt

Kurt Daudt

farmers, parents, businesses and college students. They also passed extra spending on a statewide voluntary preschool program and broadband Internet infrastructure development.

He said he does not understand why the tax bill included a $30 million tax cut for big tobacco businesses but not a workforce housing tax credit package authored by District 27 Sen. Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin. Thissen noted he has heard from Albert Lea leaders on the need for workforce housing.

Daudt said Thissen misrepresented the House’s position, and claimed the provision meant that taxes could not automatically continue to raise on cigarettes without legislative approval.

He said the tax is hurting the poor and border communities, noting he is aware of gas stations in border communities that have had to close because of a loss in business due to the tax.

Thissen said he expects Dayton to have proposals next week on what a special session could include and hopes a special session is called and is conducted in an open fashion.

Dan Sparks

Dan Sparks

Though he views the transportation bill as a one-time, kick-the-can-down-the-road approach, he views the bill as important to the area because of included improvements, such as on Minnesota U.S. Highway 14.

He claimed by omitting a provision that would have raised the cap on county regional rail authority contributions to fund rail projects, the House torpedoed hundreds of millions of dollars in road and bridge investments.

Daudt said in a conference call Tuesday he hoped the bonding and transportation bill can be addressed in a special session, noting he thinks it failed because of what he described as the Senate’s legislative maneuvering to add funding for Southwest Light Rail.

He said the bill has a lot of positive provisions for Minnesota, including road and infrastructure funding, railroad crossing safety and other measures he deems important to Minnesota.

District 27A Rep. Peggy Bennett, R-Albert Lea, said she was disappointed the bonding bill did not pass, noting her House colleagues were surprised to see the Southwest Light rail provision added onto the bonding bill.

She said she does not support controversial measures being placed onto bills that have widespread support and urged her colleagues to quit blaming each other and work together to find a solution.

She said in a press release Senate Democrats misplaced their priorities in the final hours of the legislative session.

She was part of a group of legislators Wednesday that called for a special session to complete the bonding bill and help fix U.S. Highway 14 in Owatonna.

“As we know, Highway 14 is a major transportation artery for southern Minnesota,” Bennett said. “Instead of prioritizing critical projects like fixing this highway, Senate Democrats pushed for a highly controversial light rail train, killing our transportation bill in the final minutes of session. I hope we can use a special session to put the political games aside, and finish the work the Senate failed to complete last weekend.”

About Sam Wilmes

Sam Wilmes covers crime, courts and government for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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