Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
Recent News
Home / Budget / Taxes / The year of nothing special

The year of nothing special

The Republican leaders, Senate Minority Leader David Hann and House Speaker Kurt Daudt, and the Democratic leaders, Gov. Mark Dayton and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, held separate press conferences Thursday after abandoning hopes for a special session. (Staff photos: Chris Steller)

The Republican leaders, Senate Minority Leader David Hann and House Speaker Kurt Daudt, and the Democratic leaders, Gov. Mark Dayton and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, held separate press conferences Thursday after abandoning hopes for a special session. (Staff photos: Chris Steller)

It was a year of talking about possible special sessions that in the end turned out to be just that: talk.

Six weeks after a two-day special session in June 2015, Gov. Mark Dayton suggested another to deal with relief for Mille Lacs resort owners. Over the rest of the year, he added unemployment extensions for Iron Range miners and economic equity for racial minorities to the list of possible special session agenda items.

But it was legislation left undone in the 2016 regular session that propelled a series of summer meetings between Dayton and legislative caucus leaders.

That ended Thursday, when after a short meeting with legislative leaders, Dayton told reporters he’d decided not to call a special session after all.

In their remarks, Dayton and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL–Cook, followed by House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, and Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, focused on the two big 2016 bills that didn’t make it into law: a tax bill and a bonding bill.

Encouraged, discouraged

One pair of lawmakers who couldn’t be blamed if they lapsed into cynicism about a process that foiled their efforts yet strung them along all summer are Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, chair of the House Taxes Committee, and Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, chair of the Senate Transportation and Public Safety Committee. They had each, with high hopes, shepherded big bills that fell short.

Yet even after Thursday’s announcement that special session talks had ended in failure, both Davids and Dibble indicated they had maintained faith in at least some aspects of the negotiations.

Davids said he had been “very encouraged” in the days leading up to Thursday’s meeting by inquiries from the Dayton administration. The office of Revenue Commissioner Cynthia Bauerly contacted him several times, he said, to go over nuts-and-bolts changes that would be necessary to update the tax bill for a special session consideration: adjusting effective dates and pushing back implementation dates and deadlines for tasks assigned to her office.

For his part, Dibble said he felt looped into the progress of the talks, calling Bakk “very accessible to all of us … [and] very communicative and responsive to the input of senators all along the way.”

But their takeaways had a starkly more partisan edge.

“The governor killed tax relief for political [reasons],” said Davids. “They planned to shut this thing down all along.” He deemed the reason Dayton gave for letting the bill die with a so-called pocket veto — an error that would cost the state $100 million — a “red herring.” Davids said it could have been resolved by a letter from himself and Senate Taxes Committee Chair Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook.

Dibble likewise voiced suspicions about Republicans’ intentions when asked if they had negotiated in good faith.

“This is clearly an effort by the House Republicans to appeal to a conservative base and to fuel geographic divisions,” Dibble said, referring to GOP insistence that the Southwest light rail line lacked support in Greater Minnesota. “Beating the drum on distortions and misinformation betrays how disingenuous Daudt has been all along.”

The routine

The special session talks that dragged through the summer had their own rhythms, choreography and routines — and by the end, even a “Groundhog Day” feeling of repetition.

Dayton hosted the meetings at his temporary offices in the Veterans Service Building, so he only appeared outside afterward to offer his comments to the media.

Bakk was said to usually arrive by tunnel, avoiding the Capitol media stakeout beforehand.

The Republican leaders typically strolled down the Capitol Mall, weather permitting. Sometimes they came and went in the company of advisers such as House Majority Caucus Executive Director Ben Golnik.

Sometimes leaders were accompanied by House Majority Leader Rep. Joyce Peppin, R-Rogers, on the Republican side, or Deputy Senate Majority Leader Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis, and Assistant Senate Majority Leader Katie Sieben, DFL-Newport, on the Democratic side.

After the closed-door meetings in the governor’s temporary offices, the participants generally appeared before 20 or so reporters, camera operators and photojournalists just outside the doors of the Veterans Service Building.

Most often Dayton and Daudt started calmly and sometimes stayed that way. Other times they built up to an emotional tone of defiance or attack. The minority leaders, Rep. Paul Thissen and Hann, seemed more primed for combat, the Minneapolis Democrat gesturing impatiently with his long arms and tall frame, the Eden Prairie Republican maintaining a slow burn of outrage at the latest DFL statements or tactics.

Longest span?

Dayton has called the Legislature back to St. Paul for a special session on four occasions in his 5½ years in office.

Two of those times were in order to pass disaster assistance after flooding in Duluth (2012) and after severe storms with straight-line winds caused damage and flooding in 18 counties (2013).

The other two Dayton special sessions were in odd-numbered years in which the Legislature must set the state’s biennial budget (2011 and 2015).

All were one-day or overnight affairs. The last special session to span more than two days was in 2005.

Barring a disaster, the span from last year’s special session to the next special session, whenever it occurs, will likely turn out to be the greatest length of time yet without a special session during Dayton’s tenure in office.

According to an online table of special sessions maintained by the Legislative Reference Library, there were 641 days (or nearly two years) from the special session held Sept. 9, 2013, and the one held last year, on June 12-13, 2015. If in 2017 the new Legislature meets for at least two months before adjourning, even a special session called immediately afterward would mean a longer span without a special session.


Leave a Reply