Minnesota legislators have been called back to their seats and an end to the government shutdown appears just hours away.
Gov. Mark Dayton called for a special legislative session to begin at 3 p.m. today—19 days into the shutdown of the Minnesota state government—after approving preliminary versions of nine legislative bills totaling $35.4 billion over the 2011-2013 biennium.
Legislators have resolved some of the session’s more contentious bills—on K-12 education, state government, jobs and economic development, taxes and higher education. The public safety/judiciary, transportation and environment bills were given the nod Monday afternoon, a day after legislators agreed in principle on a $11 billion Health and Human Services bill.
No mention was made of the governor’s request for a $500 million bonding bill—a stipulation of his agreement to the Republican-written budget. The bonding bill, Dayton argues, allows the state to borrow money to pay for public works projects and the thousands of jobs that come with them.
Provided the legislature passes the bills, Dayton plans to sign them into law “as they come in” Tuesday afternoon and, effectively, end the shutdown. The governor said it would then take a “few days” to notify and call back to work the 22,000 state workers laid off July 1.
Patch talked with St. Louis Park Sen. Ron Latz (DFL-District 44) as he was at the Capitol working through the details of the bills with the rest of the caucus. Like others in the room, he hadn’t seen some of the details because the minority party had been left out of negotiations.
“The governor struck the deal with the Republicans,” Latz said. “It’s not the best process. But since we’re in the minority, we don’t control the legislative outcomes.”
He said he hadn’t yet decided how he would vote on the individual bills. Latz just after it was announced, calling it “fiscally irresponsible.” But he said Tuesday that there may be bills that he could vote for.
He was happy to see that just about all the non-budget policy provisions had been stripped from the bills—one of Dayton’s stipulations for agreeing to the Republican plan. Although a few non-budget items remain, the most controversial items are no longer part of the package.
Latz’s district looks to benefit from money in another Dayton stipulation: a nearly $500 million bonding bill. The bill extends funding for a McLeod County switching yard that will allow Twin Cities & Western Railroad Co. to move switching out of St. Louis Park and into Glencoe.
It also corrects technical errors from the last bonding bill that kept the Perpich Center for Arts Education from moving money around. And it sets aside money for roads and bridges—although where exactly the money will go depends on the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s priority list.
Latz further praised the bill for allocating money for a new physics and nanotechnology building at the University of Minnesota. In all, Latz estimates that the bill will create about 15,000 jobs.
However, the bill does not set aside any money for the Southwest Transitway light rail project. Republicans have opposed light rail, and the Southwest line has been a particular target of their ire—with Shakopee Rep. Michael Beard (R-District 35A), chairman of the House Transportation Policy and Finance Committee, pledging to stop the Southwest light rail line "in its tracks."
Although negotiators were able to carve out some money for transit in the bonding bill, the Met Council will be unable to spend it on the Southwest Transitway, Latz said.