Rank-and-file lawmakers are in the dark when it comes to negotiations over a possible special session of the Minnesota Legislature later this month.
Like most legislators, Mazeppa Republican Rep. Steve Drazkowski has heard chatter about a special session around the third week of August. But Drazkowski doesn't know what the status of those negotiations are or what a possible deal might look like.
"If there's a discussion at the cool kids' table, I'm not at it. I'm not a cool kid," Drazkowski said.
DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and legislative leaders are trying to reach agreement on a special session to finish up the work left undone after the regular session. On the priority list is a $260 million package of tax cuts and a $1 billion public works bill. The big question is whether Dayton, Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt and DFL Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk can cut a deal to make that happen.
Drazkowski backs the idea of a special session focused on tax cuts. Dayton refused to sign the tax bill at the end of session, letting it die. He cited a wording error in the bill, which would have cost the state an estimated $100 million. The bill had broad bipartisan support in both the House and Senate.
"What I'm hoping for is a special session that does something that we all agree on, and that would be the tax bill and the tax bill only," Drazkowski said.
The Republican opposes passing a large public works bill to fund construction projects across the state because it would add to Minnesota's debt.
Rep. Kim Norton, DFL-Rochester, said she has "not heard a word" from leadership about the negotiations. She would like to see a special session called, but only if the deal includes funding for Rochester International Airport U.S. Customs expansion and Rochester Community and Technical College's classroom upgrades. She also wants to see a comprehensive plan for transportation funding.
"I would love to see a good bill pass, but I don't want to just pass a bill to pass a bill if it doesn't have the things we need in it like the airport and the RCTC building," Norton said.
Sen. Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, is also keeping a close eye on negotiations. He said he has heard talk about a special session in mid- to late-August. Legislative leaders have indicated a deal may include additional funding for higher education projects that are important to the governor. What remains uncertain is whether any headway has been made on one of the biggest roadblocks to a special session deal — light-rail funding. In the final minutes of the 2016 legislative session, Senate Democrats amended the public works bill to included language to help fund the Southwest Light Rail line. House Republicans are strongly opposed to any light-rail funding being part of the deal. The bill died in the final minutes of the session.
"From my perspective, if they are going to add any sort of sales tax or additional revenue that the taxpayers have to pay (for light-rail trains), I would certainly like to see some sort of referendum. Best case scenario is the citizens in those counties would vote on it," Miller said.
Sen. Matt Schmit, DFL-Red Wing, said he wants a special session so that a bonding bill can get passed, which would fund vital construction projects across the state. But before the governor calls a special session, Schmit said there must be a firm deal in place.
"I want to make sure there is an iron clad agreement so that we know exactly what is going to be in that bonding bill before we go back in," he said.
Some lawmakers said they suspect special session negotiations will ramp up again after Tuesday's primary election. Daudt is facing a primary election challenge. Assuming he wins, area lawmakers interviewed said they expect the negotiations to continue.
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Tuesday is primary election day in Minnesota. Voters will help decide which candidates in federal, state and local races will advance to the November general election.