Legislators from both parties met Tuesday for several hours to discuss a massive public works package that collapsed last month in the final minutes of their session.
Legislative leaders are scheduled to meet Wednesday with Gov. Mark Dayton for more talks on a potential special session to complete a compromise on the public works bill, which Dayton has called too small and lacking money for his key priorities.
Only Dayton can call the Legislature back into session, and he has said he wants agreement that his priorities will be funded before calling lawmakers back to St. Paul.
On Tuesday, as university administrators, local elected officials and Dayton commissioners extolled the virtues of maintaining and fixing old structures and building new ones, lawmakers engaged in political posturing that gave little cause for optimism ahead of the new negotiations.
“There were multiple errors. I think that’s the elephant in the room,” said Sen. Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis, referring to the rushed process in the closing hours of the session that led to chaos and a final breakdown without a finished product.
“I welcome your reference to elephants,” joked Rep. Paul Torkelson, the GOP chair of the House Capital Investment Committee, which traditionally pieces together a public works package that this year was set to approach $1 billion. The money would go to infrastructure projects like roads, bridges, water systems and fixing leaky roofs and other maintenance needs of state buildings.
“Perhaps if we had a few more elephants around here, things would have gone better,” Torkelson said to laughter.
Dayton wants an additional $183 million in projects, including $67 million for the University of Minnesota Medical School; $28 million for other higher education projects; a $70 million upgrade to facilities at the state security hospital in St. Peter, which has been called unsafe for staff and patients; and $34 million to build a visitors’ center at Fort Snelling in advance of its bicentennial, among other projects.
Dayton and his DFL allies in the Legislature also want funds for Southwest Light Rail Transit, which needs $135 million to claim about $900 million in federal funding to complete the line from Minneapolis to Eden Prairie. Republicans oppose the project.
A tax-cut bill also is expected to be part of the discussions, after Dayton vetoed a $259 million package of cuts that passed both chambers with overwhelming bipartisan support. Dayton said he did not sign the bill due to a drafting error that would have cost the state $101 million during the next three years.
The current mood was summed up by Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, who tweeted: “Prospects for any special session going down the tubes. Exactly what the Governor wants. Thinks it will politically help Democrats.”
Dayton called charges he was trying to sabotage the talks “absurd.”
“I’m trying to salvage the bill,” Dayton said.