Political Chatter: Campaigns Are On For Special Session

Minnesota Democrats and Republicans agree on the need for a special legislative session, but that does not mean one is certain.

Democrats, led by Gov. Mark Dayton, argue that a one-day June session is needed to approve funding public works projects in a bonding bill. Most Republicans do not dispute the need for such a bill, but they emphasize the importance of resurrecting a vetoed $260 million measure to provide both tax cuts and increased spending.

Dayton visited six greater Minnesota cities late in the week, mostly hammering home his desire to increase spending on higher education facilities.

The governor has said he would demand specific projects be part of a revised bonding bill, an earlier version of which failed in the regular session’s final minutes. However, after he listed those specific projects, he has sounded more willing to compromise on at least some of them.

Dayton said he would sign an updated tax bill, if lawmakers fix a one-word mistake that could cost the state $101 million. He also wants lawmakers to reinstate a tax break that allowed the Minnesota High School League to provide scholarships to low-income students.

Both changes are fine, Republicans say.

Even with that agreement, Republicans have taken a lot of shots at the governor over his decision not to sign the tax legislation.

“While we are disappointed the governor vetoed the bipartisan work legislators completed before end of session, House Republicans are willing to meet the governor’s new tax-related demands so we can provide relief for farmers, small business owners, middle-class families and military veterans,” Rep. Deb Kiel, R-Crookston, said.

Many GOP House members have distributed news releases promoting a special session to pass the tax bill.

Two years ago, many Republican House candidates — especially in rural areas — promised to bring home tax cuts and transportation funding. If they can get the tax bill signed, it would allow them to claim victory on one of those claims even if it is a far cry from the $2.2 billion in tax breaks GOP leaders said they wanted last year.

At the end of the regular session last month, Republicans slipped some new transportation funding into a bill to finance public works projects. It failed as the session ended.

A legislative committee will look into that bill Tuesday into that bill, and plans to take public testimony.

Dayton says that long-term transportation funding looks doomed this year, even in a special session, but he apparently has not ruled out some one-time road and bridge funding. However, he also says he will demand that any transportation funding include some money for Twin Cities transit, a thorny subject with Republicans.

Plenty of organizations are pushing hard for a bonding bill that could top $1 billion. But reaching agreement to bring it up in a special session will be tough.

Democrats want a big-spending bill; Republicans want something smaller.

Dayton insists that a University of Minnesota health facility be included; Republicans say it is too costly.

Democrats want more projects in their districts put into the bill; Republicans are happy with a bill they wrote.

A bonding-transportation package contains so many hot-button issues that it could be hard to negotiate.

Minnesotans lobby for ethanol

Two Minnesota corn farmers told federal Environmental Protection Agency officials that a requirement encouraging ethanol use should remain on the books.

Jerry Demmer of Clarks Grove and Dan Root of Hayfield traveled to Kansas City, Mo., in support keeping the existing Renewable Fuel Standard.

The EPA proposes to cut the corn-based ethanol portion of the standard 200 million gallons. Ethanol supporters say that would mean 71 million bushels of corn would not be sold, costing American corn farmers $271 million.

“As a corn farmer, it brings me a tremendous sense of pride to know that the crop I grow on my own farm helps people breathe easier and results in cleaner air,” said Demmer, who serves on the Minnesota Corn Research and Promotion Council. “I’ve also been proud to see the role ethanol has played in revitalizing many of our rural communities.”

“Ethanol makes up more than 12 percent of Minnesota’s fuel supply,” said Root, who serves on the Minnesota Corn Growers Association Board of Directors.

Franken: Good ethanol news

U.S. Sen. Al Franken is praising a European Union court ruling that kills duties against American crop-based ethanol fuel.

The Minnesota Democrat said the EU General Court ruled invalid a nearly 10 percent duty. However, the European Commission will make the final decision.

“American-made ethanol creates jobs, promotes homegrown energy and decreases our reliance on foreign oil,” Franken said.

Press secretary White House fellow finalist

Gov. Mark Dayton’s press secretary is a finalist for a White House fellowship.

Matt Swenson is Dayton’s press secretary and senior communications advisor to Dayton and Lt. Gov. Tina Smith.

The list of finalists is heavy with military personnel, mostly officers, but includes people ranging from a graduate student to a community development official.

The White House reports that each finalist has “demonstrated remarkable professional achievement early in their careers, a commitment to public service and the leadership skills needed to succeed at the highest levels of the federal government.”

The fellowship, started by President Lyndon Johnson in 1964, gives fellows a chance to work at high levels of the federal government.