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Minnesota governor expects GOP transportation plan to win

A crowd gathers Tuesday, April 18, 2017, to support Minnesota House Minority Leader Melissa Hortman. They rallied to back her comments about white male lawmakers not listening to women of color. Don Davis / Forum News Service1 / 3
This is a typical huddle for this time of year at the Minnesota Legislature, where leaders gather to appoint conference committees. From left in this Tuesday, April 18, 2017, photo are Sen. Jeremy Miller of Winona, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka of Nisswa and Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk of Cook. Don Davis / Forum News Service2 / 3
Minnesota state Sen. Jim Abeler of Anoka looks like many legislators this time of year, so tired he needs to hold up his head. With him on Tuesday, April 18, 2017, is Sen. Andrew Mathews of Milaca. Don Davis / Forum News Service3 / 3

ST. PAUL—Minnesota's Democratic governor admitted he probably will accept a Republican transportation funding plan he does not like, rural lawmakers said they heard loud and clear during a holiday break that farmers want buffer law changes and ralliers chanted support for the House Democratic leader's comments critical of white men who did not listen to women of color.

Tuesday, April 18, was the first day of the 2017 Minnesota Legislature's home stretch, with a goal of reaching agreement on a $46 billion, two-year budget before a May 22 adjournment date.

Dayton told an interviewer that he likely will give in to Republican demands on transportation funding. He wants to increase fuel taxes, while GOP bills transfer sales tax funds collected on vehicle-related goods from other programs to road and bridge construction.

"Will I swallow it?" Dayton asked in a WCCO radio interview. "Yeah, probably I will, because we need a transportation bill."

Dayton has talked about a dime-a-gallon gasoline tax increase, which along with borrowing money and raising the license renewal fee would bring in $8.5 billion for road and bridge work over the next decade. That is more than either the House or the Senate propose.

Some experts say nearly $20 billion is needed in 10 years to bring roads and bridges up to par.

The transportation issue likely will become part of end-of-session negotiations that could begin as soon as Wednesday.

Dayton's office reported he had no meetings planned with Republican leaders. On Monday, Dayton sent a letter to legislative leaders and his commissioners delivered 55 letters to legislative budget negotiators outlining places where they disagree with Republican legislation.

Sen. David Tomassoni, D-Chisholm, spoke for many lawmakers when he said: "I have no idea how this is going to come together."

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, and House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, have said they want House, Senate and Dayton administration negotiators to jointly decide spending questions; the governor said the Legislature needs "one position" before he is willing to enter budget negotiations.

Another place Dayton said he will not negotiate is about a 2015 law he championed to require plant buffers between cropland and water. Republicans, in particular, want to delay next year's implementation deadline and some want to provide farmers with payments for land they no longer will be able to use.

Many rural legislators returning from a 10-day Passover-Easter break said the buffer issue was what they heard about most.

Rep. Paul Marquart, D-Dilworth, said buffers dominated eight town hall meetings he had with Sen. Kent Eken, D-Twin Valley. While the discussion was not confrontational, he said that farmers at every meeting made comments like: "This is taking away my income, taking away my land."

Rep. Paul Anderson, R-Starbuck, said he worked on his farm during the break, but he heard from farmers wondering what they must do to comply with the buffer law.

While it may not happen this year, Anderson said that the Legislature needs to consider paying farmers for land they lose to buffer strips.

Sen. Mark Johnson, R-East Grand Forks, said his holiday break seemed a lot like when he campaigned last fall: Health care insurance dominated discussion.

While others were discussing legislation, more than 100 women, along with some men, rallied in the Capitol rotunda in support of House Minority Leader Melissa Hortman, D-Brooklyn Park.

Hortman recently complained that some white men were playing cards in a room adjoining the House chamber while women of color were speaking. She said they should have listened to the "important debate."

Republicans demand that Hortman apologize, but the group Minnesota Protests organized the rally to back her.

Women at the rally held a variety of signs, including one that read: "If you don't want to be called out for ignoring women of color, try listening to women of color."

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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