Pressure building for special session

ST. PAUL — Calls for a special session are mounting after lawmakers failed to pass a $1 billion public works and transportation funding package in the final minutes of the legislative session.

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House Minority Leader Paul Thissen DFL-Minneapolis frustratedly talks with reporters at the end of the Legislative session Sunday at midnight.

ST. PAUL — Calls for a special session are mounting after lawmakers failed to pass a $1 billion public works and transportation funding package in the final minutes of the legislative session.

Rochester City Council President Randy Staver is among those who wants to see a special session.

"I think it would be disastrous if we were to end on this note," Staver said.

But DFL Gov. Mark Dayton told reporters on Monday he has not decided whether he will call lawmakers back to St. Paul for a special session.

"Whether or not there will be a special session, I can't say," Dayton said.


The construction bill would have funded projects across Southeast Minnesota. It included $25 million for Winona State University's Education Village, $15 million for a rail grade separation north of Red Wing, $5 million to upgrade Red Wing's riverfront, $1.5 million to expand The Reading Center in Rochester and $500,000 to improve Oronoco's wastewater infrastructure. The bill also had $5 million to expand the U.S. Customs facility at Rochester International Airport.

It's that last project that Staver is most concerned about. That is the city's number one legislative priority because U.S. Customs and Border Protection has warned that the airport's current customs space does not meet federal requirements. If not upgraded, the federal government has warned it could shut down operations after giving 120 days notice, meaning the airport would lose its international status.

"Time is really of the essence in terms of that project," Staver said. "We all believe the international status is absolutely critical to the economy of Rochester."

He said Rochester Mayor Ardell Brede has already contacted to the governor's office to urge him to call a special session.

Major transportation investments

The bill also would have made hefty investments in road and bridge infrastructure. In total, the measure invested $700 million in transportation, according to GOP House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown. Daudt told reporters on Monday he asked the governor to call a special session immediately to pass the bill. He noted that House chamber will be closed again for construction starting Wednesday, making it more difficult for House members to meet.

"This (bill) would have really made a difference in maintaining and upgrading our road and bridge infrastructure," he said.

But Dayton said he has no plans to call a special session immediately. He said he is also deeply concerned that the bill failed to include funding for a new health sciences education facility at the University of Minnesota.


"My efforts to build up the medical school at the university of Minnesota are critically important to private sector economic development and to job creation and to making Minnesota — with what's going on in Rochester with Mayo Clinic — the epicenter of health care advances," Dayton said.

The U.S. Highway 14 Partnership is also urging the governor to call a special session. The bill had nearly $200 million in funding for Corridors of Commerce, a program that has helped expand U.S. 14 from two-lane to four-lane between Rochester and New Ulm. Dollars are still be sought to expand a deadly stretch of U.S. Highway 14 from Dodge Center to Owatonna.

"This is the opportunity for Highway 14 that we've worked so long for — it is vital that this momentum not be lost," U.S. Highway 14 Parntership President Bob Beussman said in a statement. He is also mayor of New Ulm.

Lawmakers disagree on special session timing

Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, said she would like to see the governor call a special session immediately so the bill can be passed. She is particularly concerned about making sure Rochester International Airport's project is funded.

"We can't imagine how damaging it would be if we lost the international airport status — the amount of traffic and the amount of commerce that comes with that. And quite frankly, if you are going to be a destination medical site, people have to be able to get there from other spots as well," Nelson said.

Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, said that while she wants to see a public works bill pass, she doesn't think it's a good idea to call an immediately special session.

She added, "I don't think there is a reason to say, 'Let's do it in two days.' When cooler heads prevail and things can be worked out, that's the time to call a special session."

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