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The cost of chaos: Legislative session ends after bonding-bill deal falls apart, minutes before deadline

Legislative session ends after bonding-bill deal falls apart
House Speaker Kurt Daudt and House Majority Leader Joyce Peppin speaking to reporters after the House adjourned Sunday night.

It was the blowup most people had been expecting for days.

Top leaders of the Minnesota Legislature were in and out of negotiations all weekend, painstakingly moving piece-by-piece to reach a deal to spend a $900 million budget surplus on tax cuts and things like broadband and education. An agreement for a long-term transportation funding bill and a large package of construction projects, known as the bonding bill, was harder to reach. But Sunday night, in the final hours before the deadline to pass legislation, things seemed to be coming together.

Democrats in control of the Senate and the Republican majority in the House had agreed to a $990 million bonding bill and a one-time infusion of cash to fund road and bridge projects, a move that would temporarily bridge an impasse over transportation funding. With less than 15 minutes to spare before midnight, the House passed the bonding bill on a 91-39 vote, sending it off to the Senate to do the same. But DFL senators were furious to learn the bill lacked funding for transit, so they quickly amended the proposal and sent it back to the House.

When word of the amendment started to spread across the chamber, House Majority Leader Joyce Peppin stood up and moved to adjourn the House, six minutes before midnight — removing any chance for the new version of the bill to pass.

And that was that.

After it was all over, both sides were at a loss as to what had even happened. 

“Why they made a decision to go home is a mystery to me, but they have killed the bonding bill,” Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk said on the Senate floor after the House adjourned.

Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt said he didn’t know exactly what the Senate did to the bill, but he feared senators had attached funding for Southwest Light Rail, which Republicans had opposed all session.

“Tonight, it may look like Southwest Light Rail may have killed $700 million of money for roads and bridges across the state of Minnesota, and I hope that’s not the case,” Daudt said immediately after adjournment.

It was chaotic end to a frantic weekend of deal-making to conclude the short 2016 legislative session on time. In the end, the bonding bill and transportation went down together, after being linked by legislators for most of the 10-week session. Lawmakers did manage to pass a $300 million supplemental budget bill and a $260 million tax cut bill in time, which are now on their way to the desk of Gov. Mark Dayton’s, who hasn’t promised to sign anything.

Special session ahead?

Both Bakk and Daudt said they were open to coming back in a one-day special session at some point to take care of the bonding bill and transportation proposal, as well as deal with complying with the federal Real ID Act, another issue that fell apart in the session’s final hours.

“We'll probably talk about this bonding bill; if the governor feels it's important, he can call us back for a one-day special session,” Daudt said.

Dayton has 14 days after the end of a biennium to decide whether he wants to sign the supplemental budget bill and tax bill. Bakk said he intends to reach out to Dayton sometime after that period to ask him to consider a special session.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk speaking to the press on Sunday afternoon.
MinnPost photo by Briana Bierschbach
Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk speaking to the press on Sunday afternoon.

“I think the governor certainly wanted a bonding bill this year. Once everybody settles down and some of the emotion comes out of the room and people kind of resume their normal lives …sometime after that, I intend to reach out to him,” Bakk said. “We’ll see how the governor feels about that.”

But Dayton, who tried to call lawmakers back for several special sessions last year for issues like Real ID, didn’t sound too keen on the idea a few days earlier.

“I don’t see any reason to have a special session," Dayton said in a press conference Friday. “They have 48 hours to get their work done, and they’ve had 11 weeks. They started working on a lot of this formally last November. They’ve had all this time. If they can’t their work done then they haven’t gotten their work done.” 

Tax cuts and budget pass easily

Lost amid all the noise about the session meltdown was the fact that a supplemental budget bill and tax cut proposal passed off both the House and Senate floors with overwhelming support.

The $260 million tax cut bill contains a one-of-a-kind tax credit for families who contribute to a 529 college savings plan for their kids, as well as additional credits up to $1,000 for students with student loans. The bill was considered a big win for Greater Minnesota, with property tax deductions for farmers, as well as property tax cuts for small businesses, veterans and the elderly. 

Gov. Mark Dayton
Office of the Governor
Gov. Mark Dayton

The final $300 million budget bill had wins for all sides, including Dayton, whose big priority — a voluntary preschool proposal — got $25 million in funding. After massive disagreements on the issue last year, which sent legislators into a one-day special session over education and other funding, Dayton will see the program get $55 million each year starting in 2018. 

Democrats and Republicans also agreed to spend $35 million to expand broadband infrastructure and another $35 million for racial equity proposals, some of which will be ongoing funding. State government programs and agencies will get an additional $28 million in the budget bill, $27 million for jobs and economic development and $25 million for cops and courts.

Bakk and Daudt said they included many of the governor’s priorities in the final budget bill, and they hope he signs it. Friday, Dayton didn’t make promises to sign a tax bill without a budget bill he found “acceptable” in hand.

“I understand that the House is not enthusiastic about the supplemental spending, but I am, and I have a say in this,” Dayton said. “I want to be emphatic and clear.”

Broken process

The whole weekend brought back fresh memories of the 2015 legislative session, when major negotiations on the budget didn’t start until the final week of session, and even then moved slowly and took place behind closed doors. This year, the final 599-page budget bill was given to House members four hours before they were set to vote, while the bonding bill arrived at the House moments after they already started to debate the bill.

DFL House Minority Leader Paul Thissen was particularly outspoken about the process, repeatedly railing against House Republicans on the issue throughout the weekend.

“Here we are again, doing the exact same thing one year later, after doing nothing for 10 weeks, shutting out the public and cramming everything into a single day,” Thissen said. “Legislators are reading about what’s happening in bills on Twitter. Minnesotans hate it. They hate it and they should.”

Some blamed divided government. Bakk put the blame on Republicans for waiting until the final week of session to release their $800 million bonding bill, delaying the start of negotiations on that proposal. The DFL-controlled Senate tried and failed to pass a $1.5 billion bonding bill weeks earlier. “I don’t think you can fault the DFL Senate; we gave it our best try, we put a bill up plenty early,” Bakk said. “The House just didn’t seem to make bonding a priority.”

For his part, Daudt seemed frustrated with the process as well. “I’m living on two hours of sleep a night for the last three nights, and toothpicks to prop my eyes up, and it shouldn’t come down to that,” Daudt said. “Unfortunately, in our system, it does.”

But that could change: A provision quietly tucked into the supplemental budget bill that passed would direct state legislators to look around the country to learn how other states set their budgets and create recommendations for different ways to meet deadlines.

“It’s actually something the speaker and I feel pretty strong about,” Bakk said. “The decision to put it in was his and mine.”

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Comments (33)

Footnote

Just want to say here that Briana Bierschbach has provided the best thinking and writing [timely communication] on these closing days than any other source I've heard or read.

Her professional yet casual style without slant pulls us painlessly--even pleasantly--through stinky burning weeds of partisan posturing and legislative malingering. She begins, not just with a precisely pithy thesis sentence, but what is classically termed "an interest-getter." Yup, we want to read to the end...and she makes it easily enjoyable in a bouncy bullet outline construction.

Briana doesn't lecture, pontificate or plod on....ah, no...she provides a conversation in which we are pleased to participate, listening/reading patiently for our turn to participate.

Maybe the best writing I've read anywhere around these parts in a very long time. So well done...

I second this! Thank you for

I second this! Thank you for your tireless work, Briana!

Agreed

Great point about the author and your metaphor " stinky burning weeds of partisan posturing and legislative malingering" will not be soon forgotten.

This is bipartisan, bicameral incompetence and too many commentators try to find the political edge to dig at to make it the issue for one or the other.

Agree

She was there and got the feeling of the real issues of the negotiation.

Anyone able to offer perspective?

I don't recall this sort of last-minute cramming happening when Thissen was speaker a couple years ago. Is this something that is the result of a divided House/Senate, or is this something that comes from a Speaker's poor planning and inability/unwillingness to negotiate? It's not a good look that Mr. Daudt is spending his third term/first term as Speaker with very little happening on issues of major importance (REAL ID, transportation) and costing the tax payers money by needing to reconvene in a special session.

The odd year of Thissen's

The odd year of Thissen's term as Speaker was a mess. That's when Bakk snuck the office building into the tax bill at the last minute. The even year was more orderly.

Transit Bill

Nicky
This happens this way every session. What's amazing that after all the conversation between Daudt, Bakk and the Governor the bill got to the Senate who's legislators were appalled that the bill didn't include funding for light rail?? Really, Bakk wasn't aware after spending hours and hours with Daudt?? I don't believe it for a minute which suggests that Bakk didn't communicate with his caucus what to expect. I watched both on Almanac Friday night and it was pretty obvious Daudt and his caucus had no interest in supporting the light rail.

Of course he was aware...

... which is why they amended it and sent it back. Daudt's play on that bill was to late until the last second and hope that Dems would fold and take a bill without a key priority in it.

Senate Amendment was not read or considered by House Speaker

Speaker Daudt chose to close the session and not consider the amendment from the Senate. (After a staffer from the Senate had crossed University Avenue to deliver the amendment to the House Chamber in the Capitol.) That indicates that he chose to disregard the work of the other legislative body, and ended up with no bill for bonding for the governor to sign. Bonding is expected to be the major work of the Legislature this session. Transportation was also expected to benefit from the Legislature's work this year. That bill failed also. Now can Speaker Daudt convince the governor to convene a special session? If he killed the bills by refusing to compromise in a regular session, what reason does the governor have to call a special session? Speaker Daudt knows how to count, and how many votes he needs to get a bill to pass. Math isn't his failure, it's negotiation.

A Look Back

We've had a divided legislature before. I can recall that back in the '80's. I don't recall the last minutes flurry in the past. Some flurry, yes, but not like this. More proof that one party has changed a great deal, the other not nearly as much.

The difference now is

The GOP has no plans beyond positioning for next election. They did not have budget targets until Saturday, something they should have had a month earlier, just sheer ineptitude disguised as political maneuvering.

Obstructionism is good posturing for election?

Not providing funding for key functions of state government is not very good positioning for an election. Who wants to re-elect someone that stands in the way of funding transportation when the state has plenty of funds? I'm not going to vote for someone that saved me a dime on increased gas tax when driving my vehicle on potholed roads means I need to spend $700 on new tires and more on alignment.

The net result of this

The net result of this legislative session is that in 2018, you won't be able to board a plane using your Minnesota's drivers license but your tax dollars will be funding the annual extravaganza thrown by Roger Goodell's cartel and paying taxes on all the PSLs and luxury suites in the pro stadiums around town.

Good thing I have a US Passport good for a few more years

Many Minnesotans don't have a valid passport, and some are probably business travelers.

Too little, too late

The House leadership decided to not offer its bonding bill until very late in the session. Why was there so much delay? Did it involve doing more important work (like campaigning) or did they actually want no bill passed as a campaign issue.

Their final bill included a lot of funding of rural legislative districts where Republicans haven't always been strong, so having them not approved because of the "big bad wolf" Democrats seems like a campaign strategy to me. Frankly, if Republicans had budged on the one big metro transportation priority, the SW line, they would have had a deal, With that deal, most transportation spending would have gone to rural Minnesota. So they didn't deliver, although being able to do so, because getting re-elected is more important than dong their job.

Minnesotans also need to be reminded that with light rail, there is a large federal match which for once brings federal funds to Minnesota. That money isn't coming if we don't act. Frankly, in most cases, Minnesota is a income tax benefactor of southern Republican states where the federal government needs cover costs that state budgets should cover.

Also, the failure to pass Real ID reform of the driver's license rubbed Republican ideologues th wrong way and the legislature couldn't even get that done. Never mind that it is a measure to increase airport security and fight terrorism - Republicans couldn't be bothered, and showed once again their willingness to put off until "tomorrow" something that could and should be done today.

One of the far right's

One of the far right's repeated complaints about the 2010 passage of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) was that Congress passed it without knowing what was in it. There had been some rush to pass the bill, but they griped that there was no time to read the bill, which was gigantic and complicated, with many provisions.

Somehow, when Minnesota legislative Republicans delay proposing more than $800 million in bonding until a week before the session must end, and then apparently include or exclude things from the bill (in this case, the SW light rail) that are unexpected , at the very last minute, and they hope Democrats won't have time to see, that's okay.

I flunk any legislative session when our representatives are expected to blindly vote on huge omnibus bills, many of which are full of only vaguely-related items, at a furious last minute.

Incidentally: everybody is all afluster about last minute rushes, but I haven't seen anything yet about actually what's in the tax-cut bill.

Link

Does anyone have a link to the final amended capital investment bill that was approved by the House but then amended by the Senate (which didn't make it back to the House in time because they adjourned)?

I've looked at HF622, the 2nd Engrossment, but the last date was 5/18 and there seemed to have been changes on the 21st & 22nd...Thank you!

622

It looks like the Revisor's office got the 3rd engrossment (under Version List) posted (late this afternoon, probably) on the bill's Status page and that's probably the "finished product" after last night's session (maybe, probably, must be):

www.revisor.mn.gov/bills/bill.php?b=House&f=HF622&ssn=0&y=2015

If it's not, or you want to double-check, you can go to the "Journal of the House 2015 - 2016" page at the legislature's site . . .

www.house.leg.state.mn.us/cco/journals/journl.asp

. . . where you'll see "Sunday, May 22, 2016 - 106th Legislative Day" and the links to the HTML and PDF versions of the journal of yesterday's House session. Both are whopper files (about 800 pages), but they're the "official record" and contain the version of 622 as it was presented and amended during last night's session (along with the same kind of stuff for every other bill and amendment dealt with in the House yesterday).

Here's the link to the html file (same as link on page above):

www.house.leg.state.mn.us/cco/journals/2015-16/J0522106.htm

And the (little bit easier to read) .pdf version:

www.house.leg.state.mn.us/cco/journals/2015-16/J0522106.pdf

Once you get there (and the file loads) HF 622 is way down near the bottom. Easiest way to find it is to search on this phrase:

"H. F. No. 622 was reported to the House"

Or you can scroll down toward the (very) bottom and, in the html version, look for "Top of Page 9422" or just plain "9422" in the .pdf file. Underneath that is a list of names (people who voted which way on the previous bill) and right under that you'll see the stuff about "H. F. No. 622 was reported to the House" and the bill/amendments (I THINK it's all there . . . Didn't check that closely, but it should be).

Thank You!

I guess it was just delayed in posting...I looked several times today and finally, there it was!

Just so I have this right...this bill was the one laid on the table last year and after the 2 bonding bills failed to pass their their respective chambers a conference committee was created and HF622 came back to life - assuming they then did a "Delete All" and put together a revised version of compromise between the House & Senate $950B. (I'm assuming this is the version 3rd Engrossment).

BUT...the Senate body (outside of the conference committee members) were mad about no major transit and that's what caused the amendment to come in at the literal 11th hour which then caused this bill to have to go back to the House where it never made it in time. Am I on the right track?

Question...should the Governor call a special session to revive a bonding package, should we assume that it would be similar to the 3rd Engrossment or could there be other items that might come back to life our items pulled out, too?

Do we have a feeling on the chances of a special session for bonding & or transportation?

Depends

If the Governor wants to ease his complaints by getting some of what he wants, he will call a specifically targeted one-day session of specifically narrow purpose. He can do that, given prior agreement by House and Senate leaders; otherwise, he looks foolish by risking failure a second time. Pretty much up to him now.

Transportation may not be a viable special session objective this year. If the sticking point is SW LRT or other special funding, votes may not change. If the purpose is to get a realistic compromise bonding bill, odds may be in favor of accommodation. In any case, we've been here before, so everyone should relax and breathe deeply while legislators get some sleep off the job for a bit.

Here's a pretty honest broker (not running again this year) I respect for straight talk and good summaries:

rep.joe.atkins@house.mn (Centrist DFL]

Librarians (are great)

I'm not sure about 622 being last year's bonding bill that was laid on the table. I think it was THIS year's House bonding bill (bonding bill's need to originate in the House). When it didn't pass when it was introduced last Tuesday or Wednesday it was (quickly) "reconsidered" and then IT was laid on the table. As I understand it, that was a "technical move" that made it possible for the bill to "stay alive" and be sent to the conference committee to be discussed by the House and Senate and revamped. And (I assume) the delete all amendment the House passed is the result (the "conference committee report") and is what that 3rd engrossment consists of.

I think . . . Hard to say a lot of the time. As you know, some bills can be tricky to keep track of. But when it comes to HF 622, I'm (pretty) sure the 3rd engrossment is the one that didn't pass that the Gov is looking at as he mulls a special session.

When all else fails (or even before) the best (and fastest) "guidance" I've found has come from, of all people, the Legislative Librarians. They're incredible. They know everything. They know the state web site inside and out, they can help a person locate most of the needles in the haystacks in no time, they are (almost) all friendly as can be and, if they can't figure it out they know just who to refer a person to (legislative assistants, people in the Revisor's offiice, etc.).

Legislative Library: www.leg.state.mn.us/lrl/ (phone # and email at the bottom of the page).

Another excellent source of "enhanced clarity" can be the general legislative info line:

651-296-2146 or 800-657-3550

And, as Jim pointed out, there are always our representatives, or reps in general (some are better, more reliable sources than others) who always claim that "constituent services" is the most important work they do.

Governor can be influenced by Minnesotans and Speaker

The governor is probably most likely to convene a special session if he gets lots of feedback from people all over Minnesota, *and* if he thinks Speaker Daudt can actually get a bill or two passed with bipartisan support.

Broken Political Process

The fundamental problem here is caused by bundling a whole lot of different things that don't have enough support to pass on their own into these large catch all bills.

The solution is simple. Just have separate votes on ever piece of the pie. If we did that government spending would drop 50% overnight.

Your idea certainly sounds like a broken political process

Nothing passes because everyone is defending their own turf

Veto Tax Bill

The Republican strategy to fund Transportation is to make the General Fund pay for it (either directly or thru bonding). There isn't enough projected, on-going, surplus, General Fund money to pay for both the Tax bill and to fund Transportation out of the General Fund. Dayton should veto the Tax bill until Transportation funding is resolved.

Top Notch Reality TV

Speaking of the bonding bill, this link . . .

www.youtube.com/watch?v=m2q4BcDYEfw&feature=youtu.be

. . . leads to the part of last night's House floor session that took place right around 11:15 to 11:45 in which the 90-page bonding bill "delete all" amendment was "debated."

If you didn't see it you really ought to check it out: Sometimes the Legislature Show is better than just about anything a person can find on commercial tv and the bonding bill segment is a prime example of that ("You just can't make this stuff UP!").

A lot of people say, "Sessions always end that way," etc . . . While that might be true a lot of the time (and a bad way to do things) anyone who says that would be hard-pressed to locate a video that proves there's been anything (besides the end of last year's session) quite like last night's bonding bill "discussion."

Not that it was the only strange thing going on yesterday, last week, all biennium, but when it comes to examples of bizarre behavior and "less than optimal" legislative management practices, it's about as close as a person can get to a genuine (public) freak show without having to buy a ticket.

I thought last year's House finale was one for the record book that could never be topped, but last night may have gone beyond it . . . What surprised me (kind of) was I was pretty sure Kurt Daudt would have been at least a LITTLE careful about not bungling things as badly as he did last year, but nope.

Apparently, last year was just a warm-up and water off a duck's back. He just can't seem to help himself when it comes proving he can't lead his way out of a paper bag and that he could care less about anything having to do with anything (like legislative rules, democracy, etc.) other than whatever dumb thing he's bound and determined to jam through.

And he's so BLATANT about it. Right there on TV. Right there on the record. Very strange. (Notice how different his demeanor is when he's got the gavel in his hand and he's in Man of Action mode as opposed to the easy-going, mild-mannered, everybody's friend from just down the road guy we see in all those "media opportunities" and "Frankly" interviews.)

Anyway . . . If you didn't catch it last night, take a look and see what you think. . . If I was the Emperor of Minnesota I'd put out a decree that said every voter in the state needed to watch it before being given a ballot in November. Kurt Daudt and Paul "Eat your vegetables" Torkelson (and Joyce "The Organizer" Peppin) were VERY lucky it was on just before midnight on an obscure public television channel on a real nice springtime Saturday night: Even their own constituents might have trouble rationalizing voting for them next time if they happened to see it.

And speaking of light rail and Republican's equating it with the near-Satanic metro area thieves who are trying to steal hard-working outstate people's money to build their luxury toy choo choos to ride (for free, on their tax dime!) to lurid nightclubs (and worse -- ride them to the capital to cast votes for GAS TAX INCREASES to steal even MORE money from them!), anyone who thinks Republicans are right about that issue ought to (try to) spend a couple minutes thinking about:

- the future (metro population, even thicker traffic jams and snarled, bogged-down commerce);

- how the people of the big bad metro pay more than half the state's taxes (and will be paying more than that in the future); and,

tough as it may be, spend a few minutes reading this article:

"The Train That Saved Denver

"The car-choked city overcame regional distrust to build a major transit system that is remaking the urban core and the suburbs, too."

www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/05/what-works-denver-rail-system-gr...

Real Republicans won't read it, of course: They know they don't need to because they're smarter than everybody else and already know it's just liberal media Politico stuff and that the people of Denver just THINK their trains are working because marijuana's legal in Colorado which means whatever the people there think they're seeing and experiencing is an hallucination.

Interesting video shows members in action

A very interesting video. Thanks for sharing the link. Provides very interesting insight into the legislative process . . . how House members have difficulty voting when they haven't seen the bill or had time to read it, or are unable to introduce amendments, or are unable to correct priorities that were ignored from MNSCU because legislators decided they wanted to pick which projects should be funded instead of a state agency.

"Cost of chaos"

It seems that this recent session actually didn't spend a whole lot more money, and will spend even less if the Governor vetoes the tax bill (as he had said he would earlier in the session). This may come in handy next year if the "surplus" disappears. Our debt service bill should also decrease as we drop another year off of past bonding bills.

As for the SLR maybe losing out on Federal money (which should kill the project), would it really be so bad that the Federal government didn't give away even more money that it doesn't have? $18 trillion isn't chump change no matter how much we try to say that it isn't all that much with such a large economy.

Minnesota has Become a Luddite State

The 2016 legislative session marks one of the low points in MN government. For decades even with political conflict MN has found a way to move ahead as a progressive state with a vision for the future and not afraid of risk or of change. This session conclusion with little done has established a state that is best described as that of a Luddite form. Afraid of change, very risk adverse, no consideration for the future, no vision to build a stronger economy and more and more. The Luddites disappeared in a few years we have two choices 1) remain in the do nothing keep all the same mode or 2) regain the MN energy and vision for effective and good government serviing the people of MN today and the future.The question is WHO and HOW does the State regain its historical vision. I for one want to work to make a positive impact for the future of MN and all citizens.

Dave Broden

IRRRB status quo vs. SW Light Rail?

If I were Tom Bakk, I'd be quite concerned about the proposals to change the governing structure of the IRRRB, which has been the mainspring of the DFL's control of the Iron Range and Arrowhead
region for years. And I'd be telling my fellow DFLers from the Cities that they need to go along to get along in as subtle a manner as possible so as to insulate them from the fallout that could affect
their re-election chances.

Watch for both issues to be part of the resuscitation.

Try Herding Cats

If you look at the MN Secretary of State's stats on elections, you will find that some of the "DFLers from the Cities" get elected with margins as high as 88 to 12. (Percentage of DFL votes vs GOP.) Those legislators are pretty immune to suggestions to "get along" by ignoring their constituents and their funding priorities. Do you really think that Speaker Daudt's inability to pass bills for the governor to sign will translate to widespread voting decisions to vote for any House challenger over an incumbent?

Daudt-less

We're 2 billion into our light rail/bus master plan, about halfway to a full system and 135 million into the SWLRT next phase. And our House Republican leader says: "let's walk away" leaving nearly a billion federal matching dollars on the table along with jobs and future transportation needs. Dysfunctional financial judgement is a Daudt specialty. His problem when it relates to walking away from personal credit card debt, gun waving used car purchases and unemployment other than a part time legislative job. Our problem when he is 1/3 of the decision making process for all of state government.

Failure to Invest now can cause revenue losses in the future

SWLRT stands to benefit many suburban businesses. It's also desired by people from Greater Minnesota (and my relatives visiting from South Dakota) that want to attend sporting events and concerts at large downtown venues, and prefer to drive and stay in the suburbs, where they don't have to pay parking fees, but spend money shopping and at restaurants and other local suburban businesses. Transportation is an investment, and failure to invest can have a domino effect. Our neighboring states with better roads can attract more tourists, and more businesses.