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Dayton, Daudt exchange heated words during briefing

Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Daudt puts his hand on Gov. Mark Dayton's arm Thursday, Feb. 25, 2015, as the two disagreed about an economic report during a media briefing. (Forum News Service photo by Zach Kayser)

ST. PAUL — A heated exchange between Gov. Mark Dayton and House Speaker Kurt Daudt on Thursday may have yielded a preview of what to expect during the 10-week Minnesota legislative session.

The animated exchanged included Dayton wagging his finger at Daudt and Daudt grabbing Dayton’s arm, a public display of agitation between the two previously unseen by political reporters.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, and House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, D-Minneapolis, joined Dayton and Daudt for a pre-session briefing with members of the media from across the state, speaking about their legislative priorities and goals for the session starting March 8.

Parts of the briefing turned into political sparring between the Democrats and Republicans, including testy points of contention not normally seen in public.

Dayton, a Democrat, and Daudt, R-Crown, squared off at the Forum News Service-sponsored briefing, with each accusing the other of cherry-picking statistics for political gain.

After Hann quoted figures from a Minnesota Chamber of Commerce study showing Minnesota has among the highest taxes on small businesses, Dayton voiced a strong disagreement with the report.

“It’s just a typical chamber hatchet job, picking out metrics that make us look bad and that’s all they present,” Dayton said. “The chamber never has anything good to say about the state of Minnesota, and they’re wrong for that reason.”

The governor pointed to national organizations — those that “look at us subjectively and without that kind of prejudice” — that have given high rankings for business and job creation.

“There are all these other factors that (the Chamber of Commerce wants) to exclude,” Dayton said.

Daudt countered, calling the governor’s assertion “foolish.”

“To listen to the governor of our state to call the chamber — the association that represents businesses in Minnesota that employ Minnesotans, and do a great job at employing — to hear him call that a ‘hatchet job’ when they’re literally presenting the facts … I get really sick of people who want to pit this group of people versus that group of people for their own political gain,” he said.

Thissen also argued with Daudt over transportation goals, an area all parties identified as a top priority for the upcoming session.

Daudt called for both parties to focus on building a transportation bill around what everyone agrees on while looking to cast aside items that have held up bills in past sessions, namely public transportation.

“I think — forgive me from using some common sense once in awhile — that we should look at this like a Venn diagram,” he said. “Each one of us has a circle, and somewhere there’s a point where those circles overlap. There are some controversial things about some of these transportation plans… and I frankly don’t believe someone is going to hold up funding for something — roads and bridges — that is so broadly supported, not only by the public but members of our Legislature. And I think people that try to hold that up, at the end of the day, will be blamed for it (not passing).”

“It seems to me that the governor’s assessment of pessimism is pretty well-founded after hearing that answer,” Thissen replied. “Talking about Venn diagrams isn’t going to get this resolved. The Republicans have not put forth any plan that actually adds up. They’re counting money that’s already spent as new money. Kind of a typical Republican budget, if you ask me.

“For someone that’s a leader of the state to come up here and say transit is controversial? It’s only controversial to the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party. (Transportation) is broadly supported by the people of Minnesota.”

Also at the meeting:

  • Bakk said that there are too many boat launches on Minnesota lakes, which hampers inspection for invasive species that may be tagging along on boats and trailers. “We need to put in more infrastructure to make sure all boats are inspected,” he said. “We do not need, six, eight, 10 boat landings on a single lake, that’s just too expensive.”
  • Leaders from both sides were against allocating funding for new prison construction, but were divided on using privately owned Prairie Correctional Facility in Appleton to address space shortages. “I’m not sure that it’s the best policy for the state of Minnesota to be paying a private corporation to be locking Minnesotans up,” Thissen said.
  • Dayton said a gasoline tax increase for transportation funding isn’t out of the question. “If people aren’t willing to pay $1.65 a gallon instead of $1.45 a gallon to improve our highways and bridges. … if we do nothing, it will get worse. If we do it inadequately, it will get worse. This is the reality. There’s no free lunch.”
  • Dayton said that he expects his administration to release a report on the proposed PolyMet copper-nickel mine in northeastern Minnesota late next week. An environmental report was released last year and state officials are to determine whether it is adequate. Regardless of the decision, a lawsuit likely will be filed.

The Minnesota Legislature begins meeting March 8, with a constitutional May 23 deadline for adjourning. A main job during the session will be funding public works projects such as expansions and repairs to government facilities.

The Legislature also is expected to modify the two-year budget passed last year. Dayton said he expects to release his budget suggestions around mid-March

Don Davis contributed to this story.