A funding possibility for special session?

By Joe
Associate Editor

St. Paul – Since lawmakers adjourned in late May, there has been
speculation and talk of the possibility of a special session to
deal with proposals that fell by the wayside during a rush end to
the legislative session.

For much of the summer, the chances appeared slim. Then the
Interstate 35W bridge collapsed at the beginning of August. Now, a
post-Labor Day special session is possible, and some are pondering
whether dedicated funding could (or should) be included.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty remains open to a special session if there is
agreement on the duration of such a session, and the issues that
will be discussed, according to spokesman Brian McClung.

‘The governor’s preference is that it be focused on bridge
safety and transportation infrastructure,’ he said. ‘(But) we’re
still in the discussion phase and yet to see if an agreement can be

Even among supporters of the dedicated funding bill, there isn’t
agreement about pushing for its inclusion in any special session.
Some say the better option is to avoid the emotion and debate that
will accompany legislative discussions regarding the bridge and
raising the state gas tax.

Others say the bill deserves to be included, given the amount of
time it’s been in the pipeline and the fact that it’s been passed
by a conference committee and needs just an up or down vote.

‘(Legislators) have given us their assurance they are going to
pass it,’ said Garry Leaf, of Sportsmen for Change. ‘Why not get it

Jim Klatt, president of the Minnesota Outdoor Heritage Alliance,
said if the bridge collapse is the impetus for a special session,
he would prefer dedicated funding be left out.

‘We’re really looking, still, toward the start of the session,’
he said. ‘I don’t think we’re going to run into any roadblocks
getting them moving to get the ballot measure passed.’

While dedicated funding was a hot topic on the last day of the
session – a conference committee passed the bill – the House and
Senate ran out of time to vote on it on the floors.

Legislative leaders have said the bill will be one of the first
priorities next session, which begins Feb. 12. The bill they’ll
vote on would increase the state sales tax by 3/8 of 1 percent and
allocate an estimated $291 million a year like this: 33 percent to
fish and wildlife habitat; 33 percent for clean water; 19.75
percent for arts and cultural heritage; and 14.25 percent for parks
and trails.

Gary Botzek, executive director of the Minnesota Conservation
Federation, said it likely would take an hour or two to discuss the
funding bill during a special session.

‘You don’t want to take the emphasis away from the real reason
for the special session, but it’s just an up or down vote,’ he

While a dedicated funding question wouldn’t be on the ballot
until November 2008, supporters say passing the bill this fall
would help in gearing up a campaign to pass it. The various
factions that would benefit from the dedicated funding bill have
met during the summer to discuss such a campaign.

The conference committee dealt only with the constitutional
question and the way the tax increase would be split. It didn’t
discuss governance or how the money would be spent, which is a key
for sportsmen’s groups, who are pushing for a citizen, or citizen
and legislator, council to distribute the fish and wildlife

Legislative leaders said such issues could be resolved before
the next session, but that hasn’t been done yet. Discussions about
how the money will be spent likely will intensify after Labor Day,
Klatt said.

‘We’re just hammering on that every chance we get,’ he said.

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