Gov. Mark Dayton and legislative leaders met for an hour behind closed doors on Friday afternoon, but did not reach agreement on the terms of a special session. In fact, the consensus appears to be a preference for no special session if already appropriated funds can be utilized to cover $4.5 million in needed disaster relief.
“We’re still exploring, as we’ve been all along, whether there’s a way to accomplish the disaster relief without a special session,” said House Speaker Paul Thissen, addressing reporters after the talks ended. “It’s not clear that we can, but there may be some options that we’d like to explore.”
Republicans indicated that they were on board with trying to find a way to avoid a special session if possible. “A special session is expensive,” said Senate Minority Leader David Hann. “If there is a way to do it without a special session, we want to fully explore that.”
Specifically, legislative leaders suggested that there may be a way to tap into money that was previously appropriated for disaster assistance in order to cover the current needs stemming from June storms. During the meeting they consulted with Minnesota Department of Management and Budget Commissioner Jim Schowalter on what those options might be.
“The law’s a little ambiguous on that subject,” said Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk.
Previously Dayton and DFL legislative leaders proposed a one-day special session on September 9 that would be limited to disaster relief and repealing a tax on farm machinery repairs.
Prior to Friday’s meeting, Republicans countered with a proposal to repeal all three business-to-business taxes that were enacted during the 2013 legislative session. Rolling back those taxes would decrease revenues by roughly $300 million in the current biennium.
The GOP plan is in sync with what business interests are seeking. The United for Jobs Coalition, which is spearheaded by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, delivered a petition signed by more than 300 businesses and associations calling for repeal of all three taxes to Dayton’s office on Friday.
Republicans didn’t offer any specifics on how they might cover the $300 million revenue shortfall that would result if those taxes are stricken. “There are lots of ways to do this,” Hann said. “What we suggested is that if we commit to trying to find a way, then we can have a full discussion about that.”
Dayton and legislative leaders agreed to meet again next week, although no specific time has been set.