Special session? Not likely
The 2016 legislative session ended more than a month ago. Since then, tensions between Gov. Mark Dayton and some legislative leaders have only seemed to grow. Last week, talks that legislative leaders had with the governor appeared to be moving — if anything — away from any kind of compromise deal. It's a bit of a deja-vu moment for Minnesotans.
You may recall we went through similar machinations at the end of last year when the governor wanted to call a special session, first to alleviate economic challenges of Mille Lacs Lake resort owners and then to extend jobless benefits to unemployed mine workers on the Iron Range. Neither of these proved a dire enough situation for House Republicans to agree to a special session last year. It appears that this year's unmet needs — a vetoed tax bill worth $260 million and a bill worth more than $1 billion which has the potential to create more than 22,900 jobs — will also likely not be enough to bring all sides together.
To say I'm disappointed would be an understatement. Immensely frustrated would be more accurate. As a member of the tax committee I'm very familiar with the progressive tax changes we made in this year's bill. From student loan debt relief, to an increase in the working family tax credit and an expansion of the military service tax credit, the tax bill contained great policy changes for many Minnesotans.
But the lack of a bonding bill is even more dire. Duluth has much at stake in the 2016 bonding process. Our region had more than $90 million in requests; nearly all of which were funded in the Senate's original bill. You'll recall that bill failed to pass by only one vote. Conversely, the bonding bill we voted on in the final minutes of the regular session contained many drafting errors, including the complete absence of local projects like the Duluth Steam Plant and Hermantown's Arrowhead Regional Wellness Center. In retrospect, I would have asked Gov. Dayton to veto it.
Further, the bonding bill proposed by the House the last night of session included many earmarked transportation projects. But there was not nearly enough money for the local road and bridge improvement programs across the state. The bill also shortchanged renovation and improvement funds for higher education institutions across the state. The "midnight Sunday" bill, as I've come to call it, must be improved upon, and we've now had over a month in which to do that necessary work.
But this all may be irrelevant. Though the need for a substantial and comprehensive bonding bill is clear, it appears the political will may not be strong enough. This is an election year and all 201 House and Senate seats are on the ballot in November. The further from session we get and the closer to the November election, the less likely a special session seems. For those projects counting on bonding money, you likely are already considering alternative funding opportunities or putting your project on the back burner. I know that is both frustrating and disappointing. I share those sentiments.
Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, represents District 7 in the Minnesota Senate.