Dayton, leaders preview session hurdles ahead

Gov. Dayton and legislative leaders previewed the 2016 session during a briefing with reporters. Tim Pugmire|MPR News

Gov. Mark Dayton and top legislators are offering mixed views of what they think they can accomplish in the 2016 session, which begins March 8.

Dayton joined House and Senate leaders from both parties Thursday in a pre-session briefing with reporters from throughout Minnesota.

Deep, partisan disagreements remain on transportation funding and tax cuts. But they all want quick action on an extension of unemployment benefits for laid-off Iron Range workers.

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Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, and House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said they plan to take up bills in the first week of session. But Daudt said he also wants to see some economic development for the area.

“We obviously, I think, all care about what’s going on on the Iron Range and want to make sure we’re helping those folks out,” Daudt said. “Not just the short-term with unemployment benefits, but long-term. I think we all know that what people want on the Iron Range isn’t just an unemployment check. They want a paycheck.”

Daudt also pledged quick House action on a bill to begin moving the state into compliance with the federal Real ID law.

House and Senate leaders could not agree last year on a tax bill or a transportation funding plan. Negotiations on those measure will begin again this session on those unresolved issues. Transportation is a priority for all.

Dayton, who pushed unsuccessfully for a gas tax increase last year, said he wants legislators to come up with a realistic alternative. He opposes the House GOP plan to use existing sales tax revenue from the general fund.

“I’m pessimistic we’ll get a transportation bill that’s meaningful,” Dayton said. “I think we’ll get one that’s got a lot of cosmetics.”

House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said the governor’s pessimism is “well founded,” and said the Republican plan “doesn’t add up.”

Republicans see it differently.

Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said general fund money is appropriate for transportation because it is a core function of government. Hann said there’s no reason to raise taxes when there’s a large budget surplus.

“That does not make sense to people,” Hann said.

Republicans are also pushing for a tax cut on Social Security income.

But Sen. Bakk warned an elimination of that tax would cost the state $600 million a year.

“We just don’t have that kind of money lying around,” Bakk said.