Special session Sept. 9 to pass disaster relief bill

by T.W. Budig

ECM Capitol reporter

Gov. Mark Dayton has called a disaster relief special legislative session for Monday, Sept. 9.

Lawmakers will look to secure about $5 million in disaster relief for 18 counties, including Hennepin, Houston and Morrison, damaged by strong storms in June. Golden Valley, Crystal, Robbinsdale, Minnetonka, Wayzata, Plymouth and Maple Grove were among the communities that suffered extensive tree damage and power outages. The disaster relief covers damage to public facilities and infrastructure, include $5 million is debris removal, and $9 million for road and bridge repairs.

President Barack Obama has already declared a disaster, freeing up Federal Emergency Management Agency dollars. The state must cover a portion of the cleanup costs to receive the federal funding.

Dayton wants to include two other counties, Rock and Nobles, for special session disaster relief funding. That could increase state costs by about $1 million.

Although legislative leaders all indicated a willingness to consider repealing a controversial sales tax expansion to farm machinery repairs as part of the special session, closed-door negotiations resulted in no agreement. Democrats and Republicans both suggested the other party was to blame.

He was personally disappointed, Dayton said, that repeal of the repair tax wasn’t part of the special session agreement. Dayton indicated the provision in the tax bill had slipped by. Anyone who has watched the end of a legislative session, Dayton said, understands the rush of bills.

“It’s not a perfect system,” Dayton said, when asked about future safeguards. “And I’m not a perfect person.”

House Tax Committee Chairwoman Ann Lenczewski, DFL-Bloomington, said the farm machinery repair tax had been discussed. Legislators were aware of it, she said.

While Republican leaders have pushed for repeal of the repair tax and a warehouse tax on the storage of business-related goods, effective April 1, 2014, Dayton spoke of a “serious proposal” needing to be offered. That proposal did not come, Dayton said.

Republican leaders spoke of a “reluctance” among Democrats for repealing the taxes.

“We came in willing to do any or all,” House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said.

But Daudt said Republicans could not accept using surplus state dollars, money that would go to paying back the school funding shift, to pay for repealing taxes.

Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said there are many places in the state budget where cuts could be made to cover the cost. He had a list of budget proposals, said Daudt, he didn’t bother to share because he sensed Democrats were not interested.

But everyone agreed it was unacceptable to use disaster relief as a bargaining chip in negotiations, the two Republicans indicated.

House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said committee hearings on the proposed special session legislation could begin next week.

The one-day session will begin at 10 a.m. Sept. 9, with actual passage of the bill taking place later in the day after committee action. The disaster relief bill is to be finalized by Sept. 6.

No floor amendments, by agreement, will be taken during the session.

Dayton said he and legislative leaders may explore ways to avoid convening special sessions in the future that deal with relatively small amounts of money.

Preliminary assessment placed the June storm damage to public infrastructure at about $18 million.

ECM Capitol reporter Tim Budig is at [email protected]