DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and House Speaker Kurt Daudt clashed Friday over light rail after meeting to break an impasse on a possible special legislative session to pass a menu of tax cuts and a public works package.
Dayton, Daudt and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk emerged from a closed-door meeting laughing and jovial but without an agreement.
Both sides said the conflict holding up the entire deal — which would entail a special legislative session to give tax cuts and borrow about $1 billion for roads and other infrastructure projects — is whether to fund the Southwest Light Rail project from Minneapolis to Eden Prairie.
The transit line is hugely important to many DFL legislators, but Republican opposition has been unwavering and firm.
Dayton and Bakk, DFL-Cook, say there can be no deal without the light-rail line, but Daudt, R-Crown, insists there can be no deal with it.
Friday’s news conference began like many others lately, with leaders describing the meeting as “Cordial ... productive ... getting there ... plan to meet again.”
Then Daudt offered an unvarnished view.
“I don’t think that’s very good legislating and I don’t think that’s very good leadership to walk away from $550 million in tax relief, to walk away from $1 billion in bonding, $700 million of road and bridge money,” Daudt said.
The speaker said while he opposes their efforts, he is fairly certain local officials will find a workaround to find $135 million needed to unlock about $900 million in federal dollars for the $1.9 billion project.
He blasted the project as too controversial among local residents, awash in litigation and lacking legislative oversight.
There continues to be no support for the project in the House GOP caucus, he said.
Dayton quickly stepped to the microphone, with Daudt standing over his right shoulder.
“The problem with being opposed to Southwest Light Rail is that no one has posited an alternative, except to pack more and more people on to the existing highway system and have it be more and more congested and have it be a less attractive area for people to live or for businesses to locate or expand,” he said.
Dayton added: “The Legislature won’t let us improve the economic and social vitality of the metro area, and for them to turn around and say we’re against it, and offer nothing as a better alternative, I think that’s really irresponsible.”
Daudt returned to the microphone: “I think that’s what’s frustrated people about how we do things in St. Paul. There’s a lot of good things in these bills, and I hope Southwest Light Rail doesn’t get in the way.”
But Dayton wasn’t done, either. He said Republicans are turning the issue into a campaign “poster board” that has sought to divide Minnesotans and turn some outstate residents against the metro.
The governor called it “wrong, shortsighted and really destructive of the economic future of this state.”
When Dayton finished, he looked flushed: “That’s it,” he said.
The parties agreed to meet again Thursday at noon.