Ag lawmakers want special session, but not all optimistic

MORGAN, Minn. - A special Minnesota legislative session is important for agriculture, farm country lawmakers say, but many are pessimistic one will happen.


MORGAN, Minn. - A special Minnesota legislative session is important for agriculture, farm country lawmakers say, but many are pessimistic one will happen.

Their main concern is the future of a provision in a vetoed tax bill that would reduce property taxes on farmland that now goes to building school facilities. They also point to other business not finished in their regular session that ended in May: construction funding for transportation, water, sewer and other public works projects.

"I think there is a better than even chance" of a special session, said Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, chairman of the House public works funding committee.

Like others, however, the chairman said that some of House Speaker Kurt Daudt's energy must be diverted to a primary election challenge next week instead of negotiating a special session. "He can't ignore that."

Overall, Torkelson was one of the most optimistic of rural lawmakers.


Daudt, Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, have discussed a special session, but reached no agreement. Apparently the biggest roadblock to a special session is a divide about whether to fund a light rail line in the southwestern Twin Cities.

Dayton insists on legislative leaders agreeing to what a special session will pass before he calls one. Only the governor can call a special session. He has said that a special session is needed by mid-August or it likely will not happen.

The governor was supposed to speak Wednesday at Farmfest, the annual all-things-farm gathering near Morgan. But a spokesman said he did not feel well and canceled; the spokesman also said no negotiations sessions are scheduled to lay groundwork for a special session.

In Forum News Service interviews at Farmfest, almost without exception the first thing rural lawmakers said needed to happen in a special session is to pass a tax bill that includes a provision to reduce property taxes farmland owners would pay to construct new school facilities.

The state would take over 40 percent of new school payments assessed to farmland, but the entire tax bill failed when the Dayton administration discovered a costly error in it and the governor vetoed it.

"If we can't get the tax bill this year, I am not sure we can get it another year," Sen. Vicki Jensen, D-Owatonna, said.

Sen. Gary Dahms, R-Redwood Falls, said other provisions in the tax bill would help greater Minnesota, including more working family tax credits and student loan benefits.

Farmers need the tax breaks now, Rep. Chris Swedzinski, R-Ghent, said, "especially with commodity prices, this week especially. Soybeans have been taking a hit, corn has been taking a hit. ... At the end of the day, we are running negative numbers in Minnesota and we can only do that so long. If you are going to keep farmers on the land, you have to keep the government out of their pockets when it comes to regulations and taxes."


Rep. Clark Johnson, D-North Mankato, said he is puzzled why Republicans do not use the light rail stalemate to their advantage. He suggested GOP leaders agree to funding light rail if Democrats who want the new transit service agree to also spend more money on rural roads and bridges.

Rural lawmakers said their optimism for a special session as ebbed and flowed in recent weeks.

"I probably am more optimistic three weeks ago than I am today," Sen. Bill Weber, R-Luverne, said.

"Unfortunately, the governor has started to add items to his wish list again," Weber said. "That is a non-starter. ... If he is going to get carried away with that, it probably is not going to happen."

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