Gov. Mark Dayton and House Speaker Kurt Daudt are ending 2016 just as they started it, trading accusations and firing angry letters back and forth over the prospect of a special legislative session that has never quite happened.
As a result, Dayton said that two major bills left over from last session were dead for good as of Wednesday: a multimillion-dollar package of tax cuts and government incentives, and a $1 billion public works spending bill. The DFL governor set one more deadline, noon on Friday, to agree on a special session next Tuesday in order to pass about $300 million in premium subsidies for 121,000 Minnesotans in MNsure’s private insurance market.
“It’s hard to deal with people who don’t keep their word,” Dayton said at a news conference Thursday. When asked, he clarified he was referring to Daudt, the Republican speaker. Failure to address premium spikes quickly is unconscionable, Dayton said, given how Republicans campaigned so hard on the issue in November.
“They’re leaving 121,000 Minnesotans in the lurch and I think that’s wrong,” Dayton said.
Offer called ‘a setback’
In a letter to Dayton earlier in the day, Daudt criticized an offer Dayton made this week that was portrayed as a good-faith effort to agree on a special session agenda that would have included the tax and bonding bills and the premium subsidy.
“Your recent letter was a setback to a solution all sides can accept,” Daudt wrote, alleging that Dayton’s latest offer restored bonding projects that all sides had agreed to exclude months ago. Jabbing back, Dayton said at his news conference that some of the changes in his latest offer were things Daudt had earlier requested but later disowned.
Part of the problem, Dayton said, was his struggle to reach Daudt, who — the governor repeatedly pointed out — is in the U.S. Virgin Islands with a number of other Minnesota legislators at a gathering of the National Conference of State Legislatures.
“He’s down in the Virgin Islands. I left him a message this morning. I haven’t heard back,” Dayton said. In a bit of political theater, Dayton sent Daudt yet another letter on Thursday — addressed to him at a Virgin Islands resort.
Bakk joins the fray
And the printed statements flew.
Senate DFL Leader Tom Bakk, also in the Virgin Islands for the legislative conference, issued a news release criticizing House Republicans — though not Daudt by name — for their “refusal to address critical issues in special session.”
“It has become clear to me and my DFL colleagues that House Republicans do not want a special session,” Bakk’s release said.
At the beginning of 2016, Dayton and Daudt were locked in a nearly identical dispute about whether to hold a special session before the regular session that began in April. At issue then was the state’s noncompliance with federal Real ID requirements and a DFL proposal to extend unemployment benefits for out-of-work miners on the Iron Range. A special session never happened, and talk of one resumed almost immediately after the tax and bonding bills stalled at the end of the regular legislative session.
The persistent problems stemming from private but inconclusive special session talks with Daudt and other legislative leaders has him considering fewer such private meetings in 2017, Dayton said Wednesday.
“It takes two to tango and I’ve been on the dance floor for seven months,” Dayton said. “You can’t resolve something with somebody who doesn’t want to resolve it.”