Daudt And Dayton Might Have Trouble Using Their Words, But All Is Not Lost For Spring Session

Recent events make it easy to be pessimistic about the prospect of much (of) anything getting accomplished during the regular session of the Minnesota Legislature that starts next month.

First, you have the acrimony and screaming that ended last year’s regular session, as lawmakers were forced in the small hours of the morning to vote on bills they hadn’t really had a chance to read.

Second, you have the failure of the Legislature to come together for a special session this winter, even as Iron Range steelworkers tried to make do without unemployment benefits amid a downturn in the industry.

Third, it’s a short session (essentially three months long), during an election year. With the biennial budget already voted on last year, there’s no looming risk of a shutdown if the legislators do nothing. It may be politically expedient to work only on the expected bonding bill— where the state finances public infrastructure projects like libraries, colleges, and such— and leave a transportation bill (much more difficult to negotiate) for later.

Although it wasn’t directly mentioned much by lawmakers during the Forum News Service pre-session briefing yesterday, the nearing campaign season was obvious.

The moment that stood out to me and several other reporters happened when Speaker of the House Kurt Daudt, a Republican, and Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, got into a verbal row over the same thing that almost caused a shutdown last year: expanding public pre-kindergarten. Dayton was replying to GOP Sen. David Hann’s citation of a Chamber of Commerce report about Minnesota’s poor ranking for taxes. Dayton thought that report was a partisan-driven “hatchet job” and he read off a quote from a Twin Cities Chamber executive who said the pre-k proposal was proposed by unions to add members.

The two then got into a preschool-like argument about whether pre-K helps close the achievement gap: “No, it doesn’t.” “Yeah, it does!” “No it doesn’t!”

You should watch the video, it’s a wonder to behold. The fracas starts at about the 39 minute mark.

In the sparring that followed, Daudt put his hand on Dayton’s arm as they were arguing. It reminded me of the dismay caused to observers when Mitt Romney put his hand on Rick Perry during a debate for the 2012 primary.

There were bright spots, yesterday, though: Dayton said he’s behind tax relief for farmers, which aligns with Republicans. And it sounded as though even if they can’t agree on a funding source for major, sustained transportation, they could still eke out a one-time funding package if they worked at it (despite Senate Majority Tom Bakk’s antipathy to the short-term idea). And I can pretty much guarantee you that they won’t pass up the opportunity for positive campaign lit by leaving surplus money on the table like they did last year. That money is going to do SOMETHING.

I’m looking forward to seeing what happens this spring. It’ll be something to tell our kids about someday, at least.

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