Dayton: Special Session Will Not Occur Without Light Rail

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Photo credit: MN House of Representatives Public Information Services

On Friday, Governor Mark Dayton (DFL) met with legislative leaders to discuss the possibility of a special legislative session, which is expected to occur later this month. During the 2016 legislative session, lawmakers failed to pass a bonding bill or transportation package.

Governor Dayton held a private meeting with House Speaker Kurt Daudt, (R-Crown), and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, (DFL-Cook), and they emerged from it without a resolution to fund the Southwest Light Rail Transit (SWLRT).

Daudt said that his House Republican caucus would not support moving forward with any special session agreement that includes the light rail project while Bakk said his Senate DFL caucus would reject any deal without it.

Daudt told reporters that he and the other legislative leaders are nearing an agreement, but that they still disagree on the Southwest Light Rail Transit (SWLRT) project. He said that SWLRT, “remains the obstacle we are trying to figure out” going on to say, “we’ll see what another week brings.”

Later in the press conference, Daudt explained that SWLRT “does not have enough votes” in the House, but said that the Met Council will likely find a way around the legislature to make the project happen.

In July, the federal government had green-lighted the $1.84 billion project, moving it closer to construction.  However, the $135 million in local funding is holding up the project from being built.

Last week, the Metropolitan Council reported that due to “inaction by lawmakers”, the price to build the SWLRT light rail line increased by $19 million.  WCCO-TV reported that the Met Council said that since light rail funding was not secured during the legislative session, the project has stalled and costs are increasing each day and that taxpayers will have to pick up the tab for the additional costs for the line, which will run from Minneapolis to Eden Prairie.

When asked if a special session will occur without SWLRT Governor Dayton said, “I believe not.”

On Thursday, House Minority Leader Paul Thissen (DFL) sent out an ominous press release vowing to take matters into his own hands if an agreement is not made.  The press release states, “If an agreement is not reached, Thissen has pledged that a House DFL Majority will hold a floor vote on a bonding bill within the first 30 days of the 2017 session.”

Bakk said he thinks there are several other options to consider for transit funding, including a metro county sales tax. He said they plan to explore those options at their next meeting.

Governor Dayton said lawmakers will be meeting again next Thursday afternoon.

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