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Bonding backer nervous about Dayton special session decision

ST. PAUL -- The Minnesota state representative responsible for drawing up legislation funding public works projects statewide said he is "nervous" about getting a second chance for passing the $1 billion measure.Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, fil...

Paul Torkelson
Minnesota State Rep. Paul Torkelson of Hanska gets his picture taken Tuesday after he filed paperwork for re-election. As chairman of the House public works committee, he said he is “nervous” about prospects of a special session to pass the bill. (DON DAVIS | FORUM NEWS SERVICE)

ST. PAUL - The Minnesota state representative responsible for drawing up legislation funding public works projects statewide said he is “nervous” about getting a second chance for passing the $1 billion measure.
Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, filed for re-election in the secretary of state’s office Tuesday - part of a large group of Republican candidates to hand in their paperwork on the last day - and immediately fielded reporters’ questions about the public works bill, which would be financed by the state selling bonds.
“This needs to happen sooner rather than later,” Torkelson said about calling a special legislative session to deal with public works and transportation funding legislation that failed to pass as lawmakers ran up against their deadline last week.
“It would be a shame if it ended up in the trash bin,” Torkelson said of a last-minute bill that folded together transportation and public works funding ranging from repair of state buildings to construction of water treatment plants.
“The governor is in the driver’s seat right now,” Torkelson said, because only Dayton can call a special session.
And the governor has some things on his wish list and says he will not call a special session unless his as-of-yet-unannounced priority list is guaranteed passage.
Unlike in years when the Legislature is debating a state budget, like 2015, government will not shut down this year if the remaining legislation does not pass.
Dayton has told the media in recent days that he will insist on some things that legislative leaders must promise will happen in a special session, or he will not call one. He reportedly was sick Monday and did not appear in public Tuesday, but he is expected to talk to legislative leaders this week.
“I’ll have a list of requirements,” Dayton told the St. Paul Pioneer Press Friday. “They’re going to be constrained. They’re going to be focused on things I think are essential for Minnesota, such as higher education.”
Atop the Dayton list is $67 million for a University of Minnesota health services building.
House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said Tuesday that the university itself put general repair funds and money for a new Duluth building at the top of its priority list, items that would have been funded in the failed bill.
Dayton has said that Daudt told him there was not room for the university health building.
“Well, there will have to be room before I call a special session,” the governor said.
The governor also has said that some transit funds would have to be included in a transportation bill, although he also has said he does not know if transportation funding can be negotiated before a special session. He has hinted that only the public works portion of the failed bill may be heard, possibly in June.
A light rail transit dispute is what derailed the transportation and bonding bill. Republicans strongly oppose light rail, while favoring buses. Dayton and other Democrats support light rail.
Republican legislative leaders on Tuesday said, like Torkelson, they want a special session soon.
Many Republicans two years ago promised higher road and bridge funding, which has not come to pass. However, Daudt said: “I am not sure we need it politically.”
Regardless of whether Republicans “need” transportation funding, it has been debated for more than two years and there are no indications the issue will go away any time soon.

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