Dispute over trail detours final Minnesota legislative work

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ST. PAUL—A gentle harmonica concert by Rep. Bob Loonan did not provide quite enough calm late Thursday, May 25, as a relatively minor issue stalled the Minnesota Legislature's drive to finish passing the state budget.

The second-term state lawmaker from Shakopee played his harmonica as lawmakers gathered for what they hoped was the third and last day of what was supposed to be a one-day session. But instead of harmonica calm, lawmakers heard a screech as work stopped over a Bloomington walking and biking trail.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, wanted a public works funding bill to require that a stretch of the trail be unpaved, said. Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, insisted it be paved.

Bakk said he feared Daudt would kill the public works bill, to be funded by the state selling bonds, if the measure required the path to be paved.

"I am extremely disappointed that Speaker Daudt will not remove problematic language from the bonding bill," Bakk said. "I told him tonight that the provision had to come out of the bonding bill in order to earn enough DFL votes to pass the Senate."

Bonding bills need supermajority votes, so Republicans who control the Legislature cannot pass them on their own.

The dispute, which mostly played out in closed-door meetings, held up work on the bonding bill and the only other major bill left for lawmakers, one funding health and human services programs such as health care for the poor.

Lawmakers said they expected the HHS bill to move quickly once debate began on it at 10:50 p.m.

The bonding bill also was not expected to consume much time, but late Thursday it was not clear if the trail dispute would be smoothed over.

The work of lawmakers was to finish a $46 billion, two-year budget. They missed their constitutional midnight Monday deadline and immediately started what was to be a one-day special session.

The first special session bill to pass, and head to Gov. Mark Dayton for his signature, was one that spends $650 million on tax cuts and increasing state aid to local governments.

The bill already had passed the House and Senate in the special session, but on Thursday the House agreed to a change senators had made: allow all Minnesota bars to remain open until 4 a.m. Feb. 2 to Feb. 5 next year when Super Bowl festivities are centered in Minneapolis.

The House on Thursday followed a Senate vote approving a bill that, among other things, would ban cities from taking actions like regulating minimum wages. However, Dayton says he will veto the bill.

Senators voted 38-25 in favor of a bill funding transportation that the House passed Wednesday.

Democrats complained the transportation measure spends too little on transit and reminded Republicans who control the Legislature that they would prefer to raise more transportation money via a gasoline tax or higher motor vehicle license fees. The GOP-written bill uses money that could be used for other uses.

Senators passed 34-28 a $19 billion education funding bill representatives backed a day earlier.

One bill that passed both houses funding several state government programs did not include money for a 45 percent legislative pay raise set by a council established by a new constitutional amendment. Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, said the Constitution requires that members get paid before other money is spent, so other legislative work will be under funded.

Gazelka agreed with Bakk that the lack of money is a problem, saying "we will fight for that next year."

Daudt strongly opposed raising lawmaker pay.

As is common near the end of a legislative session, there was plenty of down time for rank-and-file lawmakers.

Rookie Rep. Barb Haley, R-Red Wing, downed a bowl of soup while working on her computer late Thursday afternoon.

"I'm living the dream," she joked in a nearly empty House chamber.

As her first session neared an end, she talked about her philosophy: "Being a legislator doesn't make me important, but the work is important."

A step was taken to improve health care insurance this year, she said, but more needs to be done next year.

"You cannot undo seven years in five months," she said of the federal health care law.

Overall, she said she is happy with compromises worked out between the Republican-controlled Legislature and Dayton.

So was Rep. Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls, in 21st year as a lawmaker.

"It was a little more complicated at the end than I thought it would be," he said, and there was too much debate considering the session started with a $1.65 billion budget surplus.

"The surplus was burning a hole in everyone's pocket," Nornes said.

Still, he said, in the end the session produced "good balance."