DFL leaders seek quick special session

  • Article by: MARK BRUNSWICK , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 5, 2007 - 12:06 AM

Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller and House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher offer to drop a gas-tax hike from their session agenda.

DFL legislative leaders said Tuesday they're ready to abandon a more comprehensive special session to focus on last month's Interstate 35W bridge collapse and the massive floods in southeastern Minnesota. They also suggested a willingness to drop advocacy of a gas-tax increase.

In a letter to Gov. Tim Pawlenty, House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher and Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller implored the governor to call a one-day session next week to respond to the August disasters.

They suggested the gas-tax increase would not be one of the DFL's goals of a special session, and that $370 million in existing funds could be used to address disaster needs.

"We have absolutely no interest in putting special legislation on your desk that you feel compelled to veto," the letter said.

"It is unfortunate that you are unable to act decisively and comprehensively to the transportation challenge, either due to philosophy or politics," the letter said. "However, we agree the emergency needs from the bridge collapse and the flooding remain and must be dealt with immediately."

In his response Tuesday, Pawlenty wrote back that any special session on bridge reconstruction could wait until after federal funding responses have been tallied.

He also said he will announce a series of executive actions shortly to deal with short-term issues related to the flooding, effectively bypassing the Legislature.

After the bridge collapse, Pawlenty appeared to reverse a long-standing opposition to a gas-tax increase by suggesting he would be amenable to a 5-cent-a-gallon hike to fund transportation infrastructure needs.

But he later said it should be only a temporary increase and that it must be offset by an income tax decrease.

"This provides no new money for bridges," Kelliher and Pogemiller wrote.

Wants advance agreement

On Tuesday, Pawlenty continued to maintain that a special session be contingent on detailed agreements between his office and legislative leaders.

Previously, DFLers had indicated that such issues as property tax relief and a bonding bill would be part of a special session's agenda.

Now, they are suggesting that Pawlenty call the special session for Tuesday and that it end no later than next Wednesday. House and Senate committees could begin meeting as early as Friday and Monday to complete a package, the letter suggested.

Only a governor can call a special session, but once it begins, only the Legislature can end it. For that reason, Pawlenty and legislative leaders have been conducting a give-and-take about the scope of any action.

In his letter, Pawlenty said he supports a bonding package of no more than $200 million, strictly focused on emergency purposes. He also said that a comprehensive transportation package can wait until the 2008 session.

The Legislature is scheduled to convene its next regular session in February, but much is at stake beforehand, as elected officials are beginning to feel pressure to deal with the two disasters. That is particularly true in southeastern Minnesota, where flooding destroyed significant infrastructure.

The House Capital Investment Committee has scheduled a tour today to view flood damage in the cities of Rushford, Winona, Goodview and Hokah.

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