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With its future in jeopardy, Dayton sets public meeting on stalled light rail

Gov. Mark Dayton will lead a public meeting on Thursday to talk about the future of the proposed Southwest Light Rail line in Hennepin County, as state political gridlock imperils the timeline for a nearly $1.9 billion transit project. 

Metropolitan Council Chairman Adam Duininck, the Dayton appointee leading the light rail effort, said on Wednesday that planners "need a decision by August 31."

"Without local funding commitments by then, we will be forced to begin shutting down the office and project permanently," Duininck said in a statement. That would include layoff notices to about 45 employees, he said. Duininck also said the project runs out of operating cash on September 30, and contended that would lead to further delays to the tune of $1 million a week. 

The state needs to provide $135 million in order to leverage the federal funds pledged to keep the project going. But the request got snared up in legislative politics in St. Paul, where the money has emerged as a key sticking point in efforts by Dayton, GOP Speaker Kurt Daudt and DFL Senate Leader Tom Bakk to agree on a much larger package of tax cuts, transportation and infrastructure spending. 

Dayton and the legislative leaders abandoned those talks last week as the November election approaches, with all 134 legislative seats on the ballot. 

The public meeting is set for 2 p.m. at the Skjestad Room at the Department of Revenue in St. Paul. The administration invited the four legislative leaders, members of the Counties Transit Improvement Board, and business leaders. 

Daudt's spokeswoman could not immediately confirm if he would attend the meeting. Daudt has grown increasingly vocal in his criticism of the Southwest Light Rail project in recent weeks. A spokesman for Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said he would not be attending. 

MN Chamber of Commerce, Education Minnesota spent big money to lobby

Interest groups spent less slightly money lobbying state government in 2015 than in the previous year, according to a report released Wednesday by the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board. 

As in past years, major business groups and labor unions shelled out the most money to try to influence the decisions of lawmakers, the administration of Gov. Mark Dayton and city governments.

Groups spent $69.1 million lobbying in 2015, down from $70.3 million in 2014 and a recent high of $74.8 million in 2013.

The decline was notable given that 2015 was a budget year entailing a lengthy legislative session, when lawmakers decided on the state's two-year, $42 billion budget. The state budget can affect hundreds of private interests, including contractors and vendors, labor unions, hospitals and others with a big stake in the state's fiscal plans.

The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and the Minnesota Business Partnership -- the latter representing the state's biggest blue chip companies -- together spent $3.5 million lobbying government. 

Education Minnesota, the state's powerful teachers union, spent nearly $1 million. 

Big energy companies like Enbridge Energy Partners and Xcel Energy Services also spent big sums, much of it to influence the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.

Local government spent heavily to influence the Legislature and the Dayton Administration. The League of Cities and the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities together spent more than $1.3 million lobbying. 

In all cases, most of the money is spent on salaries. 

The report can be found here