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Pawlenty rejects special session requests

ST. PAUL - Mayors, unemployed union members, transportation advocates and Democratic leaders all want a special legislative session to infuse money into a slumping Minnesota economy, but Gov. Tim Pawlenty says "no."

Supporters of a special session say vetoed bills, especially one designed to reform property taxes, would provide money for thousands of construction jobs and increase state aid to local governments. The latest push for the session came Wednesday, a day after the state announced a 6,600 job loss last month, the latest of a series of bad economic reports.

Arguments for a special session come from many arenas:

-- Up to 18 percent of Minnesota's construction workers are jobless, Dick Anfang of the Building and Construction Trades Council said, adding that if the governor reconsiders some of the bills he has vetoed, many of them could return to worksites.

-- Cities, townships and counties need more money to avoid property tax increases that otherwise will top 20 percent in some places, Jim Miller of the League of Minnesota Cities said.

Overall, city tax levies are expected to rise more than 9 percent without legislative action to send more money, he said.

-- Transportation advocates continue an argument heard for years that $1 billion annually is needed to repair the state's roads and bridges. It is an argument that increased since the Aug. 1 Minneapolis bridge collapse.

Last week, Republican Pawlenty flatly told Forum Communications that he would not consider calling a session for transportation.

On Wednesday, Pawlenty reinforced earlier statements that he would not call a session to consider a tax bill, which would increase local government funding and provide tax breaks leading to some business expansions.

In a letter to mayors, Pawlenty said legislative members and their leaders can't agree on a tax bill, so a special session would not be worthwhile.

Standing in front of fellow electricians, many of whom are unemployed, John Torrance told a Capitol news conference that he essentially has been without work for five years.

"We're just a drain on society, which is sad," Torrance said.

Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, said job loss across Minnesota is becoming a trend.

"Not only are bridges falling, but jobs are falling all around us," said Tomassoni, chairman of a Senate jobs committee.

Pawlenty said Minnesota's economy is on par with neighboring states. He also criticized Democrats for wanting government to solve all problems.

The governor is the only person who can call a special session. Unless he calls one, lawmakers return to the Capitol Feb. 12 for a four-month regular session.

Pawlenty's strong stand against a special session has not stopped mayors from pleading for one. Several elected city officials - including those from Bemidji, Moorhead, Ely, St. Paul and Minneapolis - plan to ask Pawlenty to change his mind today.

Miller said city leaders need to set their property tax levies in the next two weeks, and unless more state aid is legislatively approved in that time, taxes will rise.

Pawlenty said he vetoed the tax bill because it changed the way state officials prepared budgets so state programs would receive automatic raises every two years.

The House property tax chairman said he does not expect a special session, but is working toward next year's regular session.

Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, said property taxes are expected to rise nearly $550 million next year, meaning this year's property tax relief package will be too small in 2008. The old bill "doesn't get us to where we need to be," he said. "The problem is getting worse."

Marquart said besides more government aid, homeowner property tax relief and school tax cuts are needed.

"It is going to be very difficult to do," he said. "But the bottom line is we need the property tax relief."

In a Wednesday interview, Marquart criticized Pawlenty: "There is absolutely no movement from the administration. It is like the governor has his feet stuck in the mud."

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.