The handsome-but-flawed tax bill that disappeared for lack of Gov. Mark Dayton’s signature at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday ought not be gone for good, or even for long.
Republican legislators expended considerable effort in futile appeals for DFLer Dayton to sign the 2016 session’s tax bill, despite a serious defect — a drafting error that would cost the state $100 million over three years. They would do well to put as much effort now into negotiating with the DFL governor and legislators to set a mutually acceptable agenda for a special session in which the bill could be quickly revived, corrected, repassed and signed into law.
For Dayton to call legislators back into session, the agenda must include more than the tax bill, he said Tuesday. We concur. The chance to revive one other major bill left unfinished on May 23 — the bonding and transportation bill — ought not be wasted. Better still, that bill should be split, disentangling bonding (and its supermajority vote requirement) from transportation for the sake of a better product than was in the works on May 22.
A special session would be in order solely to make one more try at bringing Minnesota more than a billion dollars in infrastructure and public facilities investments. With a bill that offered $260 million next year in nicely targeted tax relief also in play, legislators ought to be eager to return to St. Paul. They lack a formal deadline, but Dayton suggested a practical one: Get it done by July 1, the tax bill’s intended effective date.
It’s ironic that the tax bill has landed on the special session negotiating table. Of the four major bills on the 2016 session’s to-do list, that measure came together first — though it was still so rushed that the drafting error went undetected until after adjournment.
It also came closest to representing genuine bipartisan compromise. It included a number of commendable features — an enriched child care tax credit and working-family credit; a tax credit for college loan repayments; a state match for college savings; business property tax relief targeted at small businesses; a boost in state aid to cities and counties, and relief for farmers from the burden of school-related property taxes. It also included help to rebuild downtown Madelia, devastated by a fire in February, and property tax relief for a new soccer stadium in St. Paul’s Midway.
That’s a lot for legislators to walk away from. But it’s also a lot for Dayton, who is not on the ballot this fall, to deny to those who are. He will err if he drives too hard a bargain. Dayton told reporters Tuesday that he intends to be flexible in negotiations and that he wants to meet the Republican House majority “halfway.”
We hope his definition of “halfway” is broad. But we also hope Republicans will see the merit in Dayton’s list of desired additions to the bonding bill and an already-signed spending bill. On that list are projects that should not have been left behind during the regular session, including a new health sciences education facility at the University of Minnesota and staffing and facilities upgrades at the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter. Transit funding in the metro area — the issue that tripped the bonding bill on May 22 — is also a must.
House Speaker Kurt Daudt spoke well Monday when he said, “The further we get from where we are right now, the harder it gets to put this all back together.” He was referring to dealmaking. But his words have larger application. The items that are on a potential special session agenda won’t disappear on their own. The longer Minnesota goes without the building projects and transportation investments that are on the line, the more costly they will become. Deferring action until 2017 or beyond is not a good option.
Both the 2015 and 2016 regular sessions ended with much work unfinished, because lawmakers were not able to bridge the State Capitol’s partisan divide. This fractious cast now has a fine opportunity to put a positive coda on the two-year cycle. They can show that they are able to do what governing almost always requires in Minnesota: craft a bipartisan deal. Minnesota citizens can help, by pressing the governor and legislators of both parties for action.