Talks begin for disaster-funding legislative session
ST. PAUL — Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton’s staff has begun discussions about whether a special legislative session is needed to appropriate the state’s portion of funds to recover from June storms.
Spokesmen for Dayton and legislative leaders say there have been no face-to-face meetings so far and discussions only are just beginning.
Despite pressure to deal with other issues, Dayton and at least some legislative leaders insist that any special session be limited to disaster relief.
“From our perspective, there will be no tolerance for political grandstanding on either side of the aisle when disaster relief at stake in any special session,” Dayton spokesman Bob Hume said.
House Speaker Paul Thissen’s also thinks a session should last just one day and be focused solely on disaster relief, as in years past, spokesman Michael Howard said.
However, like before previous special sessions, it appears there will be pressure to include other issues.
Moments after word of a special session hit Twitter, Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, began a series of tweets urging that his minimum wage increase bill be part of a session.
“Special session for storms could include minimum wage increase — a raise for 350K MN workers,” he tweeted. “Workers shouldn’t need to wait until 2014.”
While a Republican spokeswoman said the issue has yet to come up in relation to a disaster session, Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, and other Republicans have pushed for a special session to overturn a sales tax passed in May on businesses storing goods in warehouses. Many business officials have said the tax would hurt them.
Hume said the situation is similar to last year, when lawmakers met in a special session to deal with Duluth-area flood relief.
The Obama administration last week announced it 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. The disaster declaration means the federal government will cover much of the public expense, but would not help individuals who suffered loss. The state would be left with a bill of more than $4 million after Washington’s contribution.
Farm bill hurting
U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson says a Republican proposal to cut $40 billion from food stamps and other federal nutrition programs “effectively kills any hopes of passing a five-year farm bill this year.”
For years, Congress has combined the funding of farm programs with paying for nutrition programs like food stamps as a way to get both urban and rural support.
However, Republicans who control the House opted last month to pass only the farm part of the bill because they earlier lost an attempt to pass the full bill. GOP leaders promised to pass a nutrition funding bill later.
“There they go again,” said Peterson, the House Agriculture Committee’s top Democrat who serves most of western Minnesota. “Apparently, the Republican leadership plans to bring up yet another political messaging bill to nowhere in an effort to try and placate the extreme right wing of their party. Clearly they have no interest in compromise or actual legislating.”
Washington media report that House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said the House farm plan will be hard to mesh with one the Democratic-controlled Senate passed. The Senate bill would cut food stamps $4 billion over 10 years while the new House proposal would cut 10 times that amount.
Congress begins a five-week recess and the House plans just to be in session just nine days in September. Existing farm programs expire at the end of September.