Gov. Mark Dayton met with legislative leaders Tuesday to talk tax cuts and a public works bill, but the discussions were brief and bookended by dueling news conferences featuring partisan attacks and no peace offerings.
The divided Legislature adjourned as the law requires May 23 with a flurry of last minute activity but also unfinished business, which Dayton said was the responsibility of lawmakers — and lawmakers alone.
“They screwed it up,” he said of the Legislature’s last minute cramming. “That mayhem is certainly not my responsibility.”
House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, accused Dayton of negotiating in bad faith and said Republicans would happily oppose him. “I think Minnesotans appreciate the fact that we’ve been a check and balance on the governor’s continued taxing and spending,” he said.
With every passing day, deal making is complicated by the oncoming November election, when voters will choose representatives in each of the 201 legislative districts.
Dayton and legislative leaders agreed to meet again next week. The House and Senate will each appoint lawmakers to meet and publicly discuss infrastructure projects in hopes of compromise on a public works bill that is set to approach $1 billion if Dayton calls lawmakers back into a special session.
Only Dayton can call the Legislature into a special session and is unlikely to do so unless lawmakers agree to fund at least some of his priorities, including more money for public colleges and universities, transit projects in the Twin Cities and a handful of other projects.
Public works debate
The talks Tuesday arrived more than two weeks after the legislative session collapsed without any agreement on a nearly $1 billion public works package that included hundreds of millions to fix decaying roads and bridges.
But taxes also entered the equation: Dayton angered Republicans when he did not sign a $259 million package of tax cuts Monday — which means it will not become law — citing a drafting error in an obscure charity gambling section of the bill that the administration estimates would have cost the state $101 million during the next three years.
Daudt again said the drafting error in the tax cut bill could have been fixed without new legislation and alleged that Dayton is using the situation for political advantage and denying tax cuts to Minnesotans in the process.
Dayton said he will sign a fixed tax bill if all sides can come to an agreement on the other outstanding issues.
But that looks increasingly difficult.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said he cannot pass a public works bill without some way for the metro area to fund $135 million for Southwest Light Rail, which would unlock about $900 million in federal money to complete the $1.79 billion project linking Minneapolis to Eden Prairie.
Daudt and his fellow House Republicans, however, dislike the project and want it killed.
“It’s going to be very difficult to take action on Southwest Light Rail,” Daudt said. “So I don’t see it holding things up at this point.”
He questioned whether Dayton is fully committed to the project because the governor did not mention it during the Tuesday talks.
Lt. Gov. Tina Smith responded sharply to Daudt’s presumption. “That’s just ridiculous. [Daudt] knows full well that’s an important priority of this administration,” she said.
J. Patrick Coolican • 651-925-5042