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Leaders change direction: Try to avoid special session

Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk tells reporters Friday night, Aug. 16, 2013, that during the weekend that legislative and governor staff members will see if there is a way to transfer money for disaster relief so a special session can be avoided. Watching are Republican leaders Kurt Daudt, left, and David Hann. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

ST. PAUL — Minnesota legislative leaders and Gov. Mark Dayton talked for days about the need to hold a special session to help communities recover from late-June floods and storms, but Friday night decided to look at ways to provide money short of calling all 201 legislators back to St. Paul.

However, if a special session is needed, four legislative leaders and Dayton agreed it would be Sept. 9.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said legislative and gubernatorial staff will work through the weekend to see if there is a legal way to transfer unused funds from previous disasters to help communities in 18 counties affected by the June 20-26 floods and storms.

"The law is a little ambiguous," Bakk said.

Less than $5 million is needed after federal authorities promised to provide the bulk of the recovery money for local governments. Individual aid is not included.

If the money is available, legislative leaders said they support not calling a special session. Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said that would save the state money.

The leaders and Dayton will gather again next week to discuss the next step, House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said. He added a final decision will come next week.

Dayton did not talk to reporters. He left immediately after meeting with legislative leaders to attend an event in honor of the 95th birthday of his father, Bruce Dayton.

The governor and DFL legislative leaders want to consider disaster aid as well as overturning a new tax on farm implement repair if there is a special session. Republicans want more taxes repealed.

Thissen said that no one has shown how the state would plug the revenue gap from overturning further taxes. Hann, however, said he is prepared to discuss ways to do that if a special session is scheduled.

Dayton originally proposed a special legislative session to only appropriate disaster-relief money. Last week, he agreed with Thissen that the farm tax also should be overturned. The tax, which started July 1, costs farmers $2 million a month.

The Obama administration issued a disaster declaration for Benton, Big Stone, Douglas, Faribault, Fillmore, Freeborn, Grant, Hennepin, Houston, McLeod, Morrison, Pope, Sibley, Stearns, Stevens, Swift, Traverse and Wilkin counties after flooding and strong storms in late June.

Preliminary surveys show nearly $18 million in damage to public infrastructure.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.