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Gimse and other transportation leaders call for special session on road funding

ST. PAUL -- The Minnesota Legislature's transportation leaders today asked for a special legislative session to pass a transportation-funding bill that could keep up to 10,000 construction and state workers on the job.

Without a special session, Sen. Joe Gimse and Rep. Michael Beard said, a government shutdown would suspend work on roads across the state and cost millions of dollars to mothball and later restart once a budget passes.

While the transportation chairmen were asking for a special session, the Senate Rules Committee voted along party lines to get involved in a government shutdown court case to be heard June 23 in Ramsey County District Court.

On the transportation issue, Republicans Gimse of Willmar and Beard of Shakopee said they plan to launch a statewide tour with their request next week after Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton rejected the idea.

"There is no logical reason to shut down construction," Gimse said.

If Dayton and Republican legislative leaders do not reach a deal for the two-year budget that begins on July 1, much of state government could shut down because it lacks authority to spend money. That would include highway construction projects, where the transportation leaders said up to 10,000 people are working.

Gimse and Beard have written a new transportation funding bill that uses $4.6 billion in gasoline and motor vehicle taxes that must be spent on transportation. They removed general fund money that is part of overall budget talks.

However, the $62 million in general funds they removed from the new bill would be used for transit and as recently as Wednesday Dayton said he cannot accept Republican cuts in that area.

The governor's office repeated this morning that Dayton will not sign some budget bills until deals are reached on them all.

Only Dayton can call a special session, but he has no control over what legislators do once it convenes.

The transportation chairmen said they promised Dayton that if he would call a special transportation-funding session that they would work on passing transit funding in a later special session dealing with the rest of the budget.

Gimse said that road funding is especially important this year because of "extreme" damage winter weather did to state roads. With a short construction season, he said, any work suspension will end up leaving some roads unfixed.

The issue arises because so far the only budget bill signed into law funds agriculture programs, leaving the rest unsettled and state leaders facing a July 1 deadline.

Dayton and Attorney General Lori Swanson have asked the Ramsey County District Court to get involved and to decide what programs can receive funding if no budget passes by July 1.

Concerned about what will happen in court, the Senate Rules Committee voted to get involved, with Republicans in favor and Democrats opposed.

"The Senate should have a seat at the table," Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, said.

However, Koch added, she is not interested in filing a lawsuit over the shutdown.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said he was uncomfortable with the resolution because it left decisions up to Koch about what position the Senate might tak

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.