Dayton seeks end to special session limbo

Gov. Mark Dayton delivered a now-or-never ultimatum Tuesday for legislators to agree on the agenda for a potential special session, telling them he wants negotiations resolved on health insurance relief, a tax-cut plan and a stalled construction borrowing package.

He gave top lawmakers until Thursday to sign off on a deal. At a minimum, he wants them to pass a rebate plan next week for health insurance shoppers struggling with rising premiums on coverage they buy through the open market. For people who don't qualify for federal subsidies, his plan would provide them with a 25 percent price break at a cost to the state of $311 million.

Dayton said it's incumbent on lawmakers to come through while people are locking in insurance for 2017.

"If people are going to be true to what they campaigned on and all the concerns they expressed back then, which are valid concerns, we will have a special session next Tuesday to pass a premium relief bill," Dayton said.

He said he is also willing to sign a construction borrowing package and a tax-cut bill if advanced negotiations result in compromise, but the governor said the two were linked. The tax bill contained breaks toward a new professional soccer stadium, agriculture land tax credits, student loan repayment assistance and much more, and is expected to chew up $480 million of the next budget surplus.

Dayton said he would be open to a health care-only special session if the other bills can't be worked out.

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Earlier this month, lawmakers tentatively scheduled the special session just a couple of weeks before the 2017 budget-setting session is due to kick off. But they acknowledged that the details of the packages were still unresolved.

Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt and outgoing DFL Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk had delegated negotiations to issue area experts and haven't met with the governor since early December.

Incoming Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said Tuesday that he has detected "serious interest on the other side of the aisle" to reach a special session agreement. But he said his members are somewhat split over whether to move ahead now or wait until January, when they will control the Senate.

"We'll take it either way as it comes. We can set a different agenda in January if the bonding bill is done in December and if tax relief is done in December. It does allow us to focus on the things we said we want to focus on: the health care crisis and a permanent transportation bill that covers roads and bridges," Gazelka said. "Those are two major things for us we want to get done."

Gazelka said the tax and bonding bills would have a different look if the GOP assembles them when the new session starts on Jan. 3.

MPR Reporter Tim Pugmire contributed.