Minnesotans have been delivered the disappointing news: “Special session talks are dead.” For months, we watched as Gov. Mark Dayton and legislative leaders tried to negotiate a special session to finish the work of the regular session — to pass bipartisan tax and bonding bills that included transportation improvements, addressing another priority of the 2016 session.
Despite everyone’s best intentions, talks bogged down over one issue. As one headline underscored: “Funding for Southwest killed special session.”
While the Southwest light-rail line may have killed a special session, we now know that the lack of a special session didn’t kill Southwest. At the urging of the governor, the Metropolitan Council, the Counties Transit Improvement Board and Hennepin County took steps last week to move the project outside of the legislative process — not only keeping it alive, but ensuring that it will be built, barring successful legal challenges.
We continue to believe the best way to build metro transit is as part of a statewide, comprehensive funding package that includes roads, bridges and transit.
But the recent move to fund the Southwest line by bypassing the Legislature should pave the way for a special session to take care of unfinished business to the benefit of all Minnesotans. We’re not alone in resurrecting hope of a special session. With Southwest rail out of the picture, Dayton himself raised the possibility of convening legislators during a State Fair interview.
The path is clear for quick action on tax relief for Minnesotans, including many small businesses, and long-term investment in transportation — top priorities of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and our local chamber partners that are also important for Minnesota families and communities.
We urge Dayton and legislative leaders to commit to:
• An immediate special session to pass the tax and bonding bills. Nearly 90 percent of legislators supported the tax bill that was pocket-vetoed by Dayton. The tax bill provides needed tax relief and assistance to many taxpayers and local governments. Likewise, the bonding bill, which was stranded in the final hours of the session also due to disagreement about Southwest light rail, would provide funding for much-needed infrastructure and transportation projects in communities throughout the state. The sole focus of the special session should be the bonding bill as passed by the House and the tax bill with its needed technical fix.
• Quick, bipartisan passage of a comprehensive, long-term, statewide funding package for roads, bridges and transit in the 2017 Legislature. With Southwest off the table, agreement should be within reach, given the bipartisan consensus for increased investment in our state’s multimodal transportation infrastructure.
Our political leaders should agree to both actions. If they don’t take advantage of this opportunity, the move to fund Southwest outside of the legislative process will be viewed as purely political posturing — a way to keep the metro train alive at the expense of tax and bonding bills that would bring significant benefits to the entire state. Inaction on the state’s pressing issues risks driving a deeper wedge in today’s partisan divide.
Southwest light rail — which “killed the special session” — is now very much alive. We encourage the governor and legislative leaders to engineer a similar revival in the special session to provide tax relief and transportation funding for the good of all Minnesota. Both steps are vital if we are to ensure that Minnesota is ready for the future — ready for change and ready to grow.
Doug Loon is president of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. This commentary also was signed by 43 local chamber partners.