DFL Gov. Mark Dayton made another pitch for a special legislative session Monday, laying out his proposals to deal with Iron Range unemployment, implementation of the federal Real ID law and closing racial disparities in income and education.
“These are needs that cannot wait until the regular session convenes in March,” Dayton said in a letter to legislative leaders.
Dayton and DFL legislators have tried since November to pull legislators into a special session, but House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, has said the issues can wait until the regular session.
Daudt said that the biggest sticking point is solving racial disparities that he believes will not be cured in a one-day special session. “Getting to an agreement seems pretty difficult,” he said Monday.
But Dayton is pushing for at least some immediate action.
“There is no dispute that from 2013 to 2014, the median income for black Minnesotans fell by 14 percent — dropping from $31,493 to $27,440 in a single year,” Dayton wrote in his letter. “While I agree that closing the achievement gap is critical to addressing economic disparities long term, that worthy issue should be addressed during the regular session.”
Dayton wants immediate money for a Human Rights office in St. Cloud, where reports of racial unrest have become more common in recent months, and an audit to assess the state’s employment, contracting and workforce enforcement practices. All told, Dayton wants $15 million for racial disparities.
Without an agreement on the special session, Daudt and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk are already starting to lay out priorities for the regular session in March. The stakes are high as the state has a $1.2 billion budget surplus and all 201 legislative seats are up for election.
“I’m sure people are hearing back in their districts that they want to see a transportation bill,” Bakk said Monday after a legislative forum at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs. “It’s more likely than a tax bill.”
But Daudt said there is strong GOP opposition to any transportation plan that includes a gas tax or funds for mass transit projects like the Southwest Light Rail.
Bakk, DFL-Cook, said he’d like to see any transportation proposal have dedicated long-term funding rather than come from the state’s general fund budget, which can be more volatile and vulnerable to political whims.
“As popular as transportation is, it will never compete with health care and vulnerable and disabled people; it will never compete with education for money,” he said. “It needs to be a dedicated source of funding like the gas tax or license tabs that actually go into the highway trust fund.”
Daudt said his top priority will be tax relief, and that the budget surplus underscores the GOP belief that taxes are too high. “The reality is we’re collecting more money than we need from Minnesotans to operate state government,” he said.
Bakk and Daudt said they want more study of how best to solve racial disparities in the state.
“We didn’t get here overnight; we’re not going to fix this overnight, either,” Bakk said.
Christoper Aadland is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.