DFL legislative leaders announced Sep. 4 that they plan to abandon a more comprehensive special session to focus on August’s I-35W bridge collapse and massive flooding. They also suggested a willingness to drop a gas-tax hike from their session agenda.
House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher and Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller wrote a letter to Gov. Tim Pawlenty, imploring him to call a one-day session to respond to the disasters.
"It is unfortunate that you are unable to act decisively and comprehensively to the transportation challenge, either due to philosophy or politics," the letter said. "However, we agree the emergency needs from the bridge collapse and the flooding remain and must be dealt with immediately."
In his response the same day, Pawlenty wrote that any special session on bridge reconstruction could wait until after federal funding responses have been tallied.
He also said he will announce a series of executive actions in the near future to deal with short-term issues related to the flooding, effectively bypassing the Legislature.
After the bridge collapse, Pawlenty appeared to reverse a long-standing opposition to a gas-tax increase by suggesting he would agree with a 5-cent-a-gallon hike to fund transportation infrastructure needs.
He later said the increase should only be temporary and that it must be offset by an income tax decrease.
Kelliher and Pogemiller criticized this plan. "This provides no new money for bridges," they wrote.
On Sept. 4, Pawlenty continued to insist that a special session should be considered after agreements between his office and legislative leaders are reached.
Previously, DFLers had indicated that such issues as property tax relief and a bonding bill would be part of a special session's agenda.
With the recent disasters, now they are suggesting that Pawlenty call the special session for Sept. 11 and that it end no later than Sept. 12. House and Senate committees could begin meeting as early as Sept. 7 and 10 to complete a package, the letter suggested.
Only a governor can call a special session, but once it begins, only the Legislature can end it. For that reason, Pawlenty and legislative leaders have been conducting a give-and-take about the scope of any action.
In his letter, Pawlenty said he supports a bonding package of no more than $200 million, strictly focused on emergency purposes. He also said that a comprehensive transportation package can wait until the 2008 session.
The Legislature is scheduled to convene its next regular session in February, but much needs to be addressed before then, as elected officials are beginning to feel pressure to deal with the disasters—particularly in southeastern Minnesota, where flooding destroyed significant infrastructure.
The House Capital Investment Committee planned a tour to view flood damage Sep. 5 in the cities of Rushford, Winona, Goodview and Hokah.
Pawlenty also is scheduled to visit flood-damaged areas.