It felt like déjà vu all over again.
On Monday, DFL Gov. Mark Dayton announced that he’d dropped his opposition to a major sticking point in negotiations for a special session of the state legislature, a provision that allows county governments to go around the state auditor’s office and seek annual reviews from private accounting firms. With his concession, Dayton said a special session could be called by the end of the week.
“I’m not going to put at risk any further the jobs of some 9,500 state employees who would be laid off if we don’t reach an accord by July 1 this year, as well as the severe destruction of essential government services,” Dayton said Monday, raising the specter of the 2011 partial government shutdown. “I’ve learned before, I can never match the intransigence of Republican legislators, so I don’t need to learn that lesson again.”
Just a week ago, Dayton held a similar press conference to announce that he had dropped his number one priority this session — universal pre-school education — and accepted an offer from House Republicans to spend $525 million more on education over the next two years. Then, too, he said a few details had to be worked out, but that a special session was imminent.
But after two Mondays, and two putative breakthroughs, no date has been set yet for the session. That’s because lawmakers must take several more procedural steps to organize a session, and there are still outstanding budget disagreements that must be settled first.
Here’s what needs to happen before legislators can come back to St. Paul:
1. Finish a jobs-and-energy budget
Education funding and the state auditor provision have been the main sticking points in negotiations in the weeks since session ended, but that’s not all that stands between the governor and House Republicans in getting a deal.
In a letter to Daudt Monday, Dayton outlined a handful of lingering disagreements on jobs and energy programs, the only outstanding budget bill left (the education, agriculture and environment, bonding and Legacy funding bills were posted and heard in an informational hearing last week).
Among the differences: Dayton wants to spend $5 million more on a program that helps people with disabilities find work, and an additional $5 million to help prevent homelessness among Minnesotans suffering with mental illness. He also wants Republicans to preserve a cost-saving measure for people who use alternative energy sources like wind and solar, and he wants to change a DFL plan to give mining and foresting operations in northeastern Minnesota a break on their electric rates. Dayton said the provision would lower electric rates for large businesses, but at the expense of small business owners and residential properties.
While Dayton said those differences could be settled and pave the way for a special session later this week, he acknowledged he didn’t know how hard Republicans would push back. “If I’m expected again by the House leadership to go 100 percent of the way to their position, then we’re far apart,” he said. “If we can reach a reasonable compromise, as I was attempting to do on other matters, then we can get it resolved in a matter of hours.”
In a statement, Daudt didn’t address any of the individual provisions Dayton listed. He said only that he is “looking forward to working with Governor Dayton and the other legislative leaders to finalize the agenda for special session.”
2. Address Dayton’s longer wish list
In his letter, Dayton also opened the door to adding several other items to the special session agenda, including more funding for broadband in rural parts of the state; rail grade crossing safety improvements; and bonding dollars to start setting up less restrictive alternatives to the treatment program at the Minnesota Sex Offender Program. Dayton also wants to fix a quirk in state law to give the city of Rochester more flexibility to use local sales taxes for an expansion of the Mayo Clinic.
3. Get all four leaders to agree
Dayton and Daudt aren’t the only ones who can seal the final deal — they need buy-in from DFL Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, as well as the leaders of the two minority caucuses, DFL Rep. Paul Thissen and GOP Sen. David Hann. Thissen may have to do his part in the deal-making remotely, however: He left on Sunday for a weeklong trip to Italy as part of a delegation pitching Minnesota as the home of the 2023 World’s Fair. Staff says he will return early if a special session is called.
4. Check legislator schedules
It’s summer, and for many part-time legislators, that means taking a post-session vacation or heading back to their day jobs. That can make it hard to coordinate schedules and make sure everyone is available for session. Daudt said Monday that they are monitoring member schedules, but noted it will be hard to call everyone back on short notice. One legislator, GOP Rep. Dan Fabian, has a six-hour drive one-way to the Capitol from his home in Roseau, Daudt said.