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Minnesota leaders point fingers over special session failure

ST. PAUL -- A special legislative session will not happen this month, leaving Iron Rangers wondering about unemployment benefits, travelers wondering about state identification cards and blacks wondering if the state will help them catch up to wh...

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Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton announces Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016, that he will not call a special legislative session. He blamed a Republican plan to cut a business tax $270 million. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

ST. PAUL - A special legislative session will not happen this month, leaving Iron Rangers wondering about unemployment benefits, travelers wondering about state identification cards and blacks wondering if the state will help them catch up to whites financially.
"It is with great regret I am announcing today that I will not be able to call for a special session of the Minnesota Legislature," Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton told reporters Tuesday, blaming House Republicans for the collapse because they demanded business tax cuts.
But House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said he was puzzled with Dayton's announcement because the governor's own administration proposed some of the changes Dayton now is criticizing.
In an interview, Daudt said that to support $29 million in Iron Range unemployment extensions he wants to limit the size of the unemployment insurance trust fund, which is about $1.6 billion, and refund some of the money businesses paid into it.
Dayton called it a $272 million business tax cut, but the speaker said the Dayton administration backed a similar action in 2013 and proposed some of the changes sought this year. Daudt said he suggested limiting how large the trust fund can be, but administration officials suggested refunding some unemployment insurance taxes to businesses.
"It is unfortunate that the governor now is resorting to the blame game," Daudt said about Dayton stopping special session planning because of the GOP.
Unemployment insurance for hundreds of laid-off Rangers will be extended 26 weeks during the first week of the Legislature's regular session, which begins March 8, Daudt said.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, joined Dayton in blaming Republicans for lack of a special session.
“In a time of prosperity in our state it is incredibly disappointing the Republicans refuse to extend a hand to those who are still struggling," Bakk said. "Many of those families and businesses Republicans refuse to help are my constituents, people who through no fault of their own have found themselves without a job, without security and with limited, uncertain options for the future."
Many Northeastern Minnesota taconite mines are closing temporarily as the American steel industry slumps. Taconite is used to make steel, and many steel plants are idled.
Mines have laid off about 2,000 people, and the impact is spreading to mine-related and other community businesses.
Dayton in November suggested a special session to extend unemployment benefits, an action taken when other industries have experienced significant downturns.
Also being discussed for a special session was changing state law that forbids the state public safety commissioner from taking action - or even talking about - matching state driver's license and identification card requirements with new federal standards.
Daudt said that the Legislature will take up the issue immediately after returning for its regular session.
The third issue being considered for a special session was response to a report earlier this year that showed blacks losing income while whites are advancing, widening an already large economic divide.
Dayton said Daudt tells him that he wants to "do what is right by Minnesotans," but the governor said that stopping a special session is not right. "The Republicans have slow-walked it to death."
Problems negotiating a special session make prospects of a successful regular session dim, Dayton said. "It portends a lot of political shenanigans."
The governor said he is available to talk to Daudt and other GOP leaders, but gave no indication that he would call a meeting before the March 8 session start.
Daudt downplayed differences with Dayton.
"I think we have a good working relationship," the speaker said, even with a "difference of opinion."
However, he added, Dayton's news releases are much "sharper" than what he tells Daudt in private meetings.
Daudt also claimed that Dayton "hasn't been negotiating in good faith," but at the same time said "I'm not worried about it."

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