Making an abrupt U-turn, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton and DFL legislative leaders have called for repealing a new sales tax on farm equipment repair as part of a special legislative session Sept. 9 to provide disaster relief.
Two days after saying he wanted the session to focus solely on disaster assistance, Dayton said Thursday during an appearance at Farmfest near Morgan, Minn., in Redwood County that he's open to scrapping the tax that took effect July 1.
Within hours, House Speaker Paul Thissen and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, the top DFL leaders in the legislature, called on their Republican counterparts to join them and agree to a special session limited to repealing the tax and providing disaster relief to 18 counties hit by severe storms and flooding in June.
In response, the GOP leaders, Sen. David Hann and Rep. Kurt Daudt, endorsed granting disaster assistance and dumping the tax. But they said lawmakers should also repeal a new sales tax on warehousing services during the session.
"Republicans are ready to work together to fix the mistakes Democrats made in the last session and provide the needed disaster relief funds," Hann and Daudt wrote in a letter to the DFL leaders.
In their letter to the GOP leaders, Thissen and Bakk said farmers in many parts of the state are experiencing hardships caused by last year's drought, an exceptionally long winter and wet conditions that limited crop planting,
"We believe we can provide some relief by repealing the sales tax on farm equipment repair that went into effect July 1," they wrote.
The tax, which was passed by the DFL-led Legislature in May, was projected to raise $28.6 million over the next two years. Thissen and Bakk said they could tap a surplus in the state treasury to make up for the revenue lost by its repeal.
Daudt said in a statement that DFL leaders are "now admitting Republicans were right."
"We've stood alongside Minnesotans all along, telling Democratic lawmakers in St. Paul that hardworking taxpayers can't afford to pay more," he said.
But Daudt and Hann stopped short of agreeing to limit the special session to disaster relief and the tax repeal.
Hann said Republicans will still press for repealing the sales tax on warehousing and storage at bulk shipping terminals -- a tax expected to generate $82 million next year.
Dayton has said he agrees that tax should be revoked, but it doesn't take effect until April 1, and he thinks lawmakers should wait to address it when they return for the 2014 regular session in February.
Hann and Daudt said they "look forward to continuing discussions" with Dayton about a special session agenda.
President Barack Obama signed a federal disaster declaration for Minnesota on July 25 to provide aid for recovery and rebuilding efforts after storms caused an estimated $17.8 million of damage in southern and central parts of the state. The Legislature must allocate $4.5 million to cover the state's share of the disaster assistance.
Lawmakers routinely pass bipartisan disaster relief bills in special sessions. They have provided flood relief in three extra sessions in the past six years.