Legislature clarifies farmer market requirements

By Charley Shaw, Session Daily

Minnesota’s food safety laws would be specifically tailored to address farmers markets under a bill headed to Gov. Mark Dayton’s desk.

Sponsored by Rep. Bob Barrett, R-Lindstrom, and Sen. Tony Lourey, DFL-Kerrick, was passed 129-0 by the House late Wednesday. Senators passed it 55-0 Thursday.

“There are over 100 (farmers markets) in our state, probably every county in the state,” Barrett said. “They’re a good community resource to us.”

Barrett introduced the bill after constituents who run the Chisago City Farmers Market sought clarity to state laws that govern how food is handled at their market.

The bill would create a new section devoted to farmers markets in Minnesota law that deals with licensing food handlers. It would specify how food samples and cooking demonstrations at farmers markets should be regulated.

Farmers would be required to provide regulatory agencies with information upon request such as the source of the food and the equipment used to prepare it.

The bill was amended in the House to address food safety regulations for chili cook-offs. The chili amendment was crafted in response to cook-off contestants who were denied participation because they couldn’t fulfill food preparation rules.

In an amendment successfully offered by Rep. Joe Radinovich, DFL-Crosby, organizations would be exempt if they follow rules including being approved by the local municipality and developing food safety rules.

Shaw writes for the nonpartisan Session Daily (www.house.leg.state.mn.us/sessiondaily) in the Minnesota House Public Information Office.

Politicians remember former Sen. Win Borden’s good, bad times

Borden in 2008

By Mike O’Rourke, Brainerd Dispatch

Win Borden, a former state senator whose career included both great success and serious setbacks, has died at age 70.

In recent years he lived, farmed and wrote from the 1929 wood-heated farmhouse he was raised in near Merrifield, north of Brainerd.

A fellow freshman senator with Borden was Roger Moe of Erskine, who served as DFL Senate majority leader for more than 20 years. “He was well-prepared and a very effective legislator,” Moe said of Borden. “Within relatively short order he became an assistant majority leader under (then-Senate Majority Leader) Nick Coleman.”

Borden’s first win at the polls was in 1970, when he upset 26-year-old Sen. Gordon Rosenmeier of Little Falls.

After winning re-election in 1972 and 1976, Borden surprised many by resigning to accept a leadership role with the Minnesota Association of Commerce and Industry, a forerunner of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce.

Former lawmaker Don Samuelson of Brainerd said he thought Borden was disappointed when he failed to win the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party endorsement for the U.S. House when Rep. Bob Bergland, D-Minn., was appointed secretary of agriculture in the mid-1970s.

While serving the chamber, Borden hosted a daily radio program heard on more than 80 Minnesota stations.

Trouble came to Borden’s life in 2004, when he was sentenced and later served one year at a minimum security federal prison in Yankton, S.D., for failing to file federal income tax returns.

In an editor’s note in Borden’s book, “Ruminations — Memories and Tales of a Furrowed Mind,” Pete Holste wrote that Borden’s problems with the Internal Revenue Service were preceded by mental health problems and a pattern of alcohol abuse.

“Obviously, there were some difficulties in his life,” Moe said. “I think, though, he tried to come to grips with that. I enjoyed his books that he wrote later in life. He was a bright guy. Whatever he took on, he took on with real zest.”

In a 2008 interview with the Brainerd Dispatch, Borden reflected on a career in which he met such luminaries as Hubert H. Humphrey and Charles Lindbergh. He also summed up thoughts about his own political future.

“Thoroughly enjoyed it,” he said. “Never want to repeat it.”

‘People have a right to expect lower property taxes’

By Don Davis

The future of state aid that many local Minnesota governments depend on may be at stake in the next few weeks as property taxes appeared to be headed up.

By mid-December, city, county and other local officials decide how much property tax they will collect. Those decisions come on the heels of the Democratic Legislature and governor sending them large bundles of new money in the name of property tax relief.

If taxes go up, local governments may see less state aid in the future. That could lead to service cuts or property tax increases, much like Minnesotans have experienced for a decade.

“People have a right to expect lower property taxes,” state Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, said.

But many Minnesotans probably will not see lower bills.

A state Revenue Department report earlier this month indicated that property tax levies statewide could rise nearly 2 percent statewide. Cities expect to raise tax levies 2.1 percent, counties 1.5 percent, townships 2.1 percent, schools 2.6 percent and other taxing districts 2.3 percent.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and others are concerned that the preliminary numbers show 63 percent of cities and 77 percent of counties plan higher property tax levies.

Democrats did not think that would happen. They thought that millions of dollars in additional state aid they sent to local governments would result in property tax cuts.

“There will be a number of legislators who seize on any increase as evidence that local governments are (big) spenders and they will take every dollar and spend it and get more and more and they will take every dollar they can get,” Dayton said. “So they are going to undermine the case we have been making.”

With Dayton saying that increases will “seriously undermine our case,” Revenue Commissioner Myron Frans plans to talk to local government leaders who propose raising tax levies in the hope that they will trim their tax levies.

The latest Revenue Department numbers come from preliminary property tax levy decisions local officials have made. Each governing body needs to make a levy final decision by mid-December. State law does not permit preliminary levies to go up, only stay the same or shrink.

Statewide, preliminary levies always are higher than the final ones. They usually fall a percentage point or less, which if it happens this year tax means levies would rise a bit.

The preliminary levies are a mixed bag, Dayton said. “We reduced property tax increases, but our goal was to reduce property taxes.”

Senate Tax Chairman Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook, said that even if levies increase, “the average property taxpayer probably will not see an increase.”

A higher levy does not always mean higher homeowner taxes. For instance, if business property value increases more than home value in a community, businesses would pay a higher percentage of taxes and home property taxes could fall. The situation is different in each community.

Frans and Dayton said that, despite their concerns, they understand the need for higher taxes.

Frans said that in Ada, for instance, he learned that when Local Government Aid was falling in the past 10 years, the city decided to buy a new police car every six years instead of every five years. With higher LGA coming, city officials plan to return to the old purchase schedule to try to prevent equipment problems.

Even if property taxes rise, Gary Carlson of the League of Minnesota Cities and those representing other forms of local government say that new money is needed after 10 years during which state aid often fell, or at least did not keep up with inflation.

The levies announced this month, at less than a 2 percent increase, easily could have been 6 percent or 7 percent hikes without the additional state aid, Carlson said.

Salary freezes, hiring caps and other cuts have hampered local governments, Carlson said. “At some point, and maybe it already has started, there is some pressure to fill some of those jobs, to undertake some of those projects, to kind of get back to the traditional flow of services.”

Local governments have held down property taxes for years, said Beau Berentson of the Association of Minnesota Counties. “We are still dealing with a decade of underinvestment, under funding.”

Skoe said his area is a good example of county-to-county differences.

Beltrami County’s preliminary 2014 levy is the same as the current one. But next door in Clearwater County, officials decided to sell a hospital and have related debt that needs to be paid, leading to a preliminary 14 percent levy increase.

One factor influencing higher taxes is that unexpected local aid cuts over the years have made local officials leery about trusting state government to come through with money that was promised.

“I have had that specific conversation on many occasions,” Frans said.

Given that lack of trust, some local budgets are built without counting on full state aid, possibly triggering larger-than-needed levy increases.

With increases looming, some say, there could be a fight to keep Local Government Aid and County Program Aid as is.

“I do think it makes it harder for local governments to make the argument that LGA is about property tax relief,” House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said.

Local Government Aid was created in 1971 to give cities without much property wealth (and, thus, a harder time collecting property taxes) the ability to provide fundamental services such as police and fire protection. It has become critical for many cities, such as Minneapolis, St. Paul and Greater Minnesota communities.

A formula designed to determine financial need means most Twin Cities suburbs receive little, if any, LGA. Suburbs generally have more property wealth than communities that receive LGA, so they can collect more property taxes.

“A lot of suburban legislators are going to have doubt,” Marquart said. “’Is that the right investment to make?’ I’m going to be honest, that is a fair question.”

If the final levies next month show increases, Marquart said, the news will “send a very clear message and determine the future of Local Government Aid.”

“The state of Minnesota is watching,” Marquart warned.

Democrats “came through” for local governments, said Larry Jacobs from the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs, “and the taxes still go up. I think this was an overreach on the part of local governments. I think they might have lost an ally in the Capitol.”

Most importantly for local governments, Jacobs added, “this could be an end to what had been a pretty nice gravy train.”

 

—-

 

New money the governor and Legislature approved sending to local Minnesota governments next year:

– $140 million in homestead credit refunds and renters’ credits, which goes directly to Minnesotans

– $129 million in sales tax exemptions for cities and counties (a figure cities and counties say actually will be half that size)

– $80 million increase in Local Government Aid, raising the total to $507 million in 2014

– $40 million increase County Program Aid, raising the total to $105 million next year

– $10 million in township aid, a new program

—-

Property taxes, mostly levied by local governments, increased from $4.4 billion in 2002 to $8.3 billion this year.

Issues Sjodin case raised need answers a decade later

Magnuson

By Don Davis

Dru Sjodin’s kidnapping from a Grand Forks, N.D., shopping mall 10 years ago this week began a discussion about what Minnesota should do with sex offenders, a discussion nearing a time for decisions.

The question is whether those decisions will be made by state officials or by a federal judge who in following the federal Constitution may not do what Minnesotans would prefer.

At issue is a Minnesota law, similar to one in a few other states, that allows a state judge to commit a sex offender who has served his prison sentence to a jail-like treatment center until he graduates from the program.

“Can you box someone up for a crime they haven’t committed,” former Minnesota Chief Justice Eric Magnuson said is the question a federal judge is considering.

At least part of the answer is available. The federal judge expects a task force Magnuson heads to draw up proposals for how Minnesota can release sex offenders who are treated after prison in “civil commitment.” Then, the Legislature must enact legislation.

Magnuson, whose task force is due to release its ideas in a couple of weeks, said the lawsuit by sex offenders that is in front of the judge could result in mass releases, although Magnuson said that he cannot read the judge’s mind.

The former chief justice’s comments came Monday as a state Senate committee caught up on latest developments.

The committee did not note Friday’s upcoming anniversary of Sjodin’s kidnapping, but did acknowledge that her case was the beginning of a surge of sex offender civil commitments, the time sex offenders spend in a jail-like facility after serving their prison terms.

Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. of Crookston, Minn., was convicted in federal court of Sjodin’s kidnapping and death in 2003. Earlier that year, he had released from the Minnesota prison system after serving a sentence on a sex offense.

The case raised a public outcry, which politicians met over the years by increasing prison terms for sex offenders. Gov. Tim Pawlenty also led a movement to commit more sex offenders to treatment after they finished their prison terms.

That effort resulted in the state Corrections Department suggesting in December 2003 that 235 imprisoned sex offenders be committed for treatment. In the entire rest of the year, just 14 offenders had been recommended, and since a commitment law began in 1995, the most recommended for commitment in any one year was 58.

Since 2003, the number of commitment referrals has varied from 88 to 170 a year.

The number of commitments has raised the number of sex offenders undergoing state treatment from 181 in 2002 to nearly 700 today.

One man was released from treatment, but quickly returned. One other man was let out and Robin Benson of the Human Services Department said that he is doing well.

It is that lack of graduates that apparently bothers federal Judge Donovan Frank, who has strongly signaled that the state needs to take action soon. In other federal cases, judges have taken over state programs that they determined were unconstitutional.

“Treatment is the linchpin,” Magnuson said.

Without treatment and the ability for sex offenders to be let out of the state program, which is behind razor wire fences, state officials’ fear is that Frank will take over the treatment program after finding that civil commitment is the same as a life sentence.

Sen. Kathy Sheran, DFL-Mankato, said that dealing with the 700 sex offenders now in treatment is only one part of the issue legislators face.

Also on next year’s agenda, she said, should be how to handle sex offenders now in prison. Many of the most serious ones normally would be committed to the treatment program, but that might not be possible if Frank gets involved.

The third issue lawmakers must tackle, but Sheran said there probably will not be time to do it next year, is how to deal with future offenders. Among thoughts on that is to provide more treatment while sex offenders are in prison, reducing or eliminating the need for them to be committed after their prison terms end.

Sheran and the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault said lawmakers also need to look into ways to prevent sex abuse and to intervene earlier when it does occur. They said that would save victims and money.

Chairman Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, urged his colleagues to encourage House members to join senators in passing a bill giving sex offenders a chance to graduate from treatment. The Senate earlier this year approved such a measure, but the House did not take it up.

“We don’t have the luxury of time,” Latz said.

—-

Officials say patients in the Minnesota Sex Offender Treatment Program in Moose Lake are about evenly divided between those who came from the Twin Cities and those from the rest of the state.

All but eight of Minnesota’s 87 counties have sex offenders in the program. Those eight counties are Houston, Renville, Lac qui Parle, Big Stone, Stevens, Grant, Red Lake and Cook.

Knoblach sues over Senate building

Knoblach

By Don Davis

A former Minnesota House member who headed the public works committee is taking the state to court seeking to prevent construction of a new Senate office building.

Former Rep. Jim Knoblach, R-St. Cloud, announced today that he is filing the suit because the measure lawmakers passed in May funding the building violated a constitutional provision requiring each bill to contain only one subject.

The $90 million for the office building and Capitol-area parking facilities was contained in a tax bill that included more than $2 billion in tax increases. Knoblach said there is no better example of a single-subject violation than combining construction spending and tax revenues.

“It was buried deep in the tax bill and passed on the chaotic last day of session,” Knoblach said.

Knoblach’s attorney, Erick Kaardal of Minneapolis, pointed to a couple of recent court decisions that overturned provisions judges thought violated the single-subject requirement. However, court insiders say the trend of Minnesota judges has been to let the Legislature define the single-subject issue.

Kaardal said he thinks the case could be decided in district court within half a year, which Knoblach said would allow legislators to pass a new tax bill that does not violate the state Constitution in their session next year.

While Knoblach said he is not asking the courts to overturn other parts of the tax bill, he said judges could do that. If that happens, tax increases and a major Mayo Medical Center project in Rochester could be stopped.

The office building still is in the planning stage, and is set to be completed in 2015. It would house some Senate offices, while others would remain in the Capitol building. Now, the majority party (currently Democrats) has Capitol offices, while the minority party is housed in the State Office Building across the street.

The new building is to be built across University Avenue to the north of the Capitol, closer than the State Office Building.

It is to include an inside parking ramp and meeting rooms, as well as offices.

Timing for building the facility is tied to a $270 million Capitol renovation project. Planners hope the building can be occupied in 2015, so senators and staffers can move out of the Capitol, making way for work on their areas.

Many lawmakers were surprised to learn about the Senate building plans, which surfaced near the end of the legislative session in May. The building had received little discussion.

Senate, ex-staffer settle suit

By Don Davis

A longtime Republican activist agreed Thursday to drop a lawsuit claiming gender discrimination against the Minnesota Senate.

Former Senate GOP spokesman Michael Brodkorb will get $30,000 in severance pay in the deal, which already cost state taxpayers more than $300,000 in legal fees. He was fired after senators discovered he and then-Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, were having an affair.

Brodkorb said he was happy to end the suit because he “got my life back,” and Senate leaders said they were pleased to end the messy case.

“This agreement permanently dismisses Mr. Brodkorb’s claims in their entirety while providing the limited severance pay that was offered to him before he commenced litigation against the Senate,” said Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook.

Brodkorb sued the Senate because, he said, female employees had not lost their jobs when they had affairs with male senators.

Bakk and Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said the agreement with Brodkorb includes provisions that:

– Brodkorb acknowledges the sex discrimination lawsuit would not survive in court.

– No more claims against the state will be entered by Brodkorb.

– The Senate will not pay Brodkorb legal fees.

The Senate Rules and Administration Committee must approve the agreement.

“We have said all along that the Senate acted appropriately in this matter,” Hann said.

Brodkorb’s attorneys have been interviewing senators and others believed to have been involved in past affairs. Brodkorb said he has a long list of such affairs.

Brodkorb ran a partisan Republican blog before he was hired as Senate Republican spokesman. When Republicans took control of the Senate in 2011, he became one of Koch’s top aides.

In the fall of 2011, word began to spread among Senate employees about the affair. In December of that year, some senators confronted Koch about the issue. Within a couple of days she resigned her leadership position and some Republican senators told reporters about the affair, without naming Brodkorb.

It did not take long for news stories to mention Brodkorb, and he followed with his lawsuit.

Brodkorb had sought more than $500,000.

Legislature OKs disaster aid

Westrom

By Don Davis

The Minnesota Legislature overwhelmingly approved disaster-relief funds today for 20 counties today during one of the shortest special sessions in recent years.

The Senate passed the bill 59-0, with eight absentees, followed by the House 127-1 as six members were gone. It took four hours for the formalities, committee meetings, floor debate and the vote.

Today’s action sends $4.5 million to 18 counties affected by June storms and floods and frees up $219,000 for Rock and Nobles counties and the city of Worthington to use to recover from an April ice storm.

Few spoke against anything in the disaster-relief bill, but Republicans used the opportunity to complain that the brief session did not take the opportunity to overturn the “man-made disaster” of tax increases the Democratic-controlled Legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton approved earlier this year.

Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, said that the tax increases, including one on farm equipment repair, are driving business to nearby states. He talked about billboards declaring the Wisconsin, South Dakota and North Dakota are “open for business.”

“Let’s make these signs go away,” he said.

Eight counties in the district of Sen. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, will receive disaster-relief money, and he said he was grateful. “This was not a major disaster … but even small disasters in communities are important where they happen.”

However, he joined other Republicans in attacking tax increases.

Sen. Bill Weber, R-Luverne, said that his southwestern Minnesota communities sought $1 million more for ice storm recovery, but he did not fight for the money since legislative leaders rejected the idea.

“I know what the outcome is going to be,” he said before the vote.

The June 20-26 storms force power outages on 600,000 Minnesota homes and businesses, the largest loss of electricity in state history. Mudslides closed roads.

“Thousands of mature trees were uprooted,” said Deputy Commissioner Joe Kelly of Minnesota Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

Counties to get money for recover from the June disaster are  Benton, Big Stone, Douglas, Faribault, Fillmore, Freeborn, Grant, Hennepin, Houston, McLeod, Morrison, Pope, Sibley, Stearns, Stevens, Swift, Traverse and Wilkin. The funds are to go to local governments, with no aid available to home and business owners.

Democrats and Republicans agreed that changes are needed in the disaster-relief procedure used by the state.

“I don’t expect that this special session is the end of the conversation,” Senate Finance Chairman Dick Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, said.

Cohen and other leaders said they expect the process to change next year.

10 a.m. Monday special session set

By Don Davis

Minnesota lawmakers return to St. Paul Monday to appropriate $4.5 million to help local governments in recover from June storms and floods.

Gov. Mark Dayton signed the proclamation scheduling the special legislative session Friday afternoon after four legislative leaders signed off on language in a two-page bill they will consider.

The 10 a.m. session, expected to be preceded by a Senate committee hearing, must wrap up by 7 a.m. Tuesday under a deal Dayton and legislative leaders earlier signed. The only other action lawmakers are allowed to take will be to free up $219,000 in aid for communities affected by an April ice storm.

“When a disaster strikes, Minnesotans expect us to respond,” said Sen. Tony Lourey, DFL-Kerrick, who last year worked for flood-relief money for his northeastern Minnesota area.

The $4.5 million is a match for federal payments that will pay for most of the $18 million in damages local governments sustained during the June 20-26 storms and floods.

The funds are destined only for local governments; home and business owners are not eligible. The state money comes from unused funds appropriated to help communities affected by floods and wind storms last year, with no new tax money needed.

The June storms affected parts of central, western and southern Minnesota.

The only controversy as the special session was being considered came when Dayton insisted on adding $1 million for Rock and Nobles counties, two of five southwestern Minnesota counties hit by an April ice storm that caused $26 million in damage. Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said he could not agree to Dayton’s plan.

The only action the Legislature is to take about the ice storm is making it easier for the two counties and city of Worthington to get money lawmakers appropriated in May. Each of the counties is to get $60,000 and Worthington is slated to receive $99,000.

The counties to split $4.5 million are Benton, Big Stone, Douglas, Faribault, Fillmore, Freeborn, Grant, Hennepin, Houston, McLeod, Morrison, Pope, Sibley, Stearns, Stevens, Swift, Traverse and Wilkin.

Lawmakers taking last look at proposed disaster relief bill

By Don Davis

Key Minnesota lawmakers looked over a proposed disaster-relief bill Thursday night, facing a Friday deadline if a special legislative session is to be called for Monday.

The bill, as proposed, would send $4.5 million to 18 counties affected by June 20-26 storms and floods and free about $219,000 for governments in Rock and Nobles counties still recovering from an April ice storm.

The ice storm funding was the most Gov. Mark Dayton could get, after last week promising that he would insist on giving the two counties $1 million.

“The governor has been a strong, strong advocate for providing that funding,” Dayton spokesman Matt Swenson said. “But in his conversation with legislative leaders and legislative membership, he just can’t find support for it. There seems to be strong bipartisan opposition. … He said he has tried to be as persuasive as he possibly can.”

Swenson said that $219,000 in grants available to Nobles and Rock counties and the city of Worthington are in the bill in part because of Dayton’s efforts.

The special disaster-relief session was not officially set as of early Thursday evening.

Friday is the deadline Dayton gave four legislative leaders to agree to specific details in a disaster-relief bill. If they agree today, Dayton said, he will sign an order calling lawmakers into special session on Monday.

“At this point, it hasn’t been agreed to by all five leaders,” Swenson said late Thursday afternoon.

No public opposition had surfaced to the two parts of the bill:

– $4.5 million to help 18 counties recover from June 20-26 floods.

– Giving Rock and Nobles counties $219,00 in grants, an amount the southwest Minnesota communities have not been able to collect after legislators approved providing them $250,000 earlier this year.

Swenson said that legislative leaders are reviewing bill language, but he did not know if an in-person meeting is needed before Dayton calls a special session. No meetings are scheduled among the governor and legislative leaders.

A week ago, Dayton said that he would insist that $1 million be appropriated to Nobles and Rock counties for ice storm recovery. But minutes later Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said he would not allow that money to be sent to southwestern Minnesota because other disaster-relief efforts, such as one in his northeastern Minnesota area a year ago, did not get that kind of aid.

If the special session is called, House and Senate committees will meet after the session begins at 10 a.m. Monday, followed by the full chambers debating the issue. It is to last no longer than until 7 a.m. Tuesday and no other issues will be allowed to come up.

The $4.5 million is for 18 counties, going along with more than $13 million of federal money already promised. State money would come from funds not spent last year after northern Minnesota floods and wind storms.

The counties to get part of the $4.5 million are Benton, Big Stone, Douglas, Faribault, Fillmore, Freeborn, Grant, Hennepin, Houston, McLeod, Morrison, Pope, Sibley, Stearns, Stevens, Swift, Traverse and Wilkin counties.

The April ice storm caused an estimated $26 million damage in five southwestern Minnesota counties. The Legislature in May approved $1.5 million in aid to match federal recovery funds, with another $250,000 for other aid.

Local governments report having difficulty getting most of the $250,000, prompting the new plan to issue the remaining money as grants.

Much of the April damage was to private utilities, which under current law cannot receive state help.

Lawmakers question disaster bill

By Don Davis

Minnesota lawmakers appear ready to spend money to help local governments affected by June storms, but during a Wednesday night meeting many questioned using a Sept. 9 special legislative session to spend anything beyond what is needed to plug holes left by federal funding.

Kris Eide, Minnesota’s emergency services director, said $4.5 million needed to aid local governments in 18 counties affected by June 20-26 storms and floods would come from money not used in northern Minnesota windstorm and flood relief last year. That would mean no new money would be spent to fund the June disaster.

Legislative leaders and Gov. Mark Dayton also want slightly more than $1 million in additional money to help Nobles and Rock counties recover from an April ice storm. However, several lawmakers at a House-Senate committee meeting said that may go too far since the state already has matched federal aid to the tune of $1.5 million and added another $250,000 beyond that.

“These things have to be resolved yet,” said House Ways and Means Chairman Lyndon Carlson, DFL-Crystal. “There are a number of things that have to be worked out.”

No further public meetings are planned until Sept. 9.

His comments came days after Dayton and four legislative leaders signed a deal to schedule the special session. A governor’s office official told the meeting Wednesday night that details will be worked out among the five Sept. 6, before the governor signs paperwork to call the session.

Some lawmakers were concerned that they did not know what would be in the disaster funding bill and it was being rushed so fast that some communities could be left out.

“There is nothing fair about this process,” said Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul. “We rush to spend money for disaster relief.”

“We just want to be treated fairly,” Worthington City Administrator Craig Clark said of the April ice storm that devastated trees throughout his community.

The storm destroyed trees — 776 in Worthington alone — and did other damage in many areas of Minnesota, especially the southwest.

Nobles and Rock counties want more than $1 million in the special session for work such as cutting down more trees, trimming others and removing debris.

“Three inches of ice hit our entire community,” Clark said.

He asked for help “to meet our unmet needs.”

Worthington has a general fund budget of about $3 million, he said, and the city has $940,000 remaining to be paid toward the disaster.

In Luverne, $243,000 still is needed, City Administrator John Call said.

In both cities, trees that officials want to replace are in public spaces. Federal and state funds are not being used for private property.

Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, questioned whether ice storm damage should be funded because it would go beyond what federal officials have approved.

Also being questioned were electrical cooperatives’ requests for aid, something Eide said would need a law change to accommodate.

General Manager Tim Mergen of Meeker Cooperative Light and Power Association said electric lines and other infrastructure on his system sustained $780,000 in damage during the June storms, mostly in Sterns County. However, his co-op’s 7,500 members in several counties all would pay for the damage.

Federal officials approved paying for 75 percent of the damage, and he wants the state to fund the rest. Carlson did not reject the request, but downplayed its chances.

Federal funds that will pay most of the public recovery cost already are en route to local governments in 18 counties hit by storms and floods. The state is required to pick up 25 percent of the cost, which is estimated at $4.5 million.

Counties that the Obama administration declared disaster areas after the June storms and floods are Benton, Big Stone, Douglas, Faribault, Fillmore, Freeborn, Grant, Hennepin, Houston, McLeod, Morrison, Pope, Sibley, Stearns, Stevens, Swift, Traverse and Wilkin counties. Preliminary surveys show nearly $18 million in damage to public infrastructure.

Lawmakers already put $1.75 million of state money into ice storm recovery efforts in five southwest counties. Federal dollars are covering most of the damage, estimated at more than $26 million.

Leaders change direction: Look for ways to avoid special session

Thissen

By Don Davis

Minnesota legislative leaders and Gov. Mark Dayton talked for days about the need to hold a special session to help communities recover from late-June floods and storms, but Friday night decided to look at ways to provide money short of calling all 201 legislators back to St. Paul.

However, if a special session is needed, four legislative leaders and Dayton agreed it would be Sept. 9.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said legislative and gubernatorial staff will work through the weekend to see if there is a legal way to transfer unused funds from previous disasters to help communities in 18 counties affected by the June 20-26 floods and storms.

“The law is a little ambiguous,” Bakk said.

Less than $5 million is needed after federal authorities promised to provide the bulk of the recovery money for local governments. Individual aid is not included.

If the money is available, legislative leaders said they support not calling a special session. Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said that would save the state money.

The leaders and Dayton will gather again next week to discuss the next step, House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said. He added that a final decision will come next week.

Dayton did not talk to reporters. He left immediately after meeting with legislative leaders to attend an event in honor of the 95th birthday of his father, Bruce Dayton.

The governor and DFL legislative leaders want to consider disaster aid as well as overturning a new tax on farm implement repair if there is a special session. Republicans want more taxes repealed.

Thissen said that no one has shown how the state would plug the revenue gap from overturning further taxes. Hann, however, said he is prepared to discuss ways to do that if a special session is scheduled.

Dayton originally proposed a special legislative session to only appropriate disaster-relief money. Last week, he agreed with Thissen that the farm tax also should be overturned. The tax, which started on July 1, costs farmers $2 million a month.

The Obama administration issued a disaster declaration for Benton, Big Stone, Douglas, Faribault, Fillmore, Freeborn, Grant, Hennepin, Houston, McLeod, Morrison, Pope, Sibley, Stearns, Stevens, Swift, Traverse and Wilkin counties after flooding and strong storms in late June.

Preliminary surveys show nearly $18 million in damage to public infrastructure.

Dayton, leaders plan Friday special session meeting

Dayton

By Don Davis

Legislative leaders and Gov. Mark Dayton plan a late-afternoon Friday meeting to work out details about a probable special session that could appropriate money for disaster relief and, perhaps, overturn a tax or two.

Dayton said he hopes the five can at least agree on the date of a special session, which he proposes to be Sept. 9. He said he would love an agreement that legislators will only consider the disaster and overturning a farm implement repair tax.

The Democratic governor said Republicans who want another tax killed have had six weeks to propose how to replace money it would raise. However, he said, he has heard no specific GOP proposal.

The special session originally was just to approve spending less than $5 million to help repay local governments for work they did dealing with June 20-26 storms and flooding. Eighteen counties have been declared federal disaster areas and Washington will fund much of the recovery, but the state needs to pitch in some money.

Last week, Dayton said he also would like to get rid of a sales tax on farm equipment repair that costs farmers $2 million a month. He said the state has enough money to absorb that revenue loss.

The governor also wants to refund money farmers paid since the tax began on July 1.

However, the $95 million-a-year tax on goods stored in warehouses is more than the state can afford, he said. That tax, due to begin in April, upsets Republicans, who say it is forcing many businesses to delay expansion plans or to look to other states.

Most Democrats and Republicans agree the warehousing tax should be eliminated, but Democrats say that can happen when legislators return to regular session on Feb. 25.

Both taxes were enacted in May after they were inserted by the Democratic-controlled Legislature at the last minute into a tax bill, which Dayton signed.

Like other governors before him, Dayton insists that all four legislative leaders join him in signing an agreement spelling out specifically what would be allowed to come up during a special session. If all four legislative leaders do not sign the agreement, Dayton said that he will not call the session.

“We are not going to have a special session that is open ended,” Dayton told reporters after a Thursday event at the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension event.

Only the governor can call a special session, but once it begins he has no control over what is brought up.

Dayton said the House alone estimates it will cost $23,000 a day to bring its members back to St. Paul. His goal is for a one-day session.