Minnesota legislative leaders say they have a budget deal

Minnesota Legislature Faces Tough Budget Talks In Week Ahead
Glen Stubbe

FILE - In this Jan. 5, 2021, file photo, legislatures are displayed on a monitor as they are sworn-remotely in groups of nine in the nearly-empty House Chamber at the Minnesota State Capitol, in St. Paul, Minn. As the Minnesota Legislature enters the last full week of its 2021 session, lawmakers face long hours of tough negotiations as they seek to agree on a balanced budget by the Monday, May 10, 2021, mandatory adjournment date.

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The two top leaders of the Minnesota Legislature said they reached agreement with Democratic Gov. Tim Walz early Monday on broad targets for the state’s next two-year budget, but that lawmakers will have to finish the work during a special session next month.

Walz, Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka and Democratic House Speaker Melissa Hortman scheduled a news conference for 11 a.m. to announce the details of a budget framework that they once hoped to complete more than a week ago. They agreed it was impossible to nail down the language of the major budget bills and get them passed before Monday night’s constitutional deadline, so they’ll have to go into overtime.

The legislative leaders said the governor would call the special session for no later than June 14, but that the work would begin earlier. Walz is required by law to reconvene lawmakers by that date as a condition for extending the emergency powers he has used to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. The task of resolving their differences was harder this year than in 2019 because lawmakers mostly met remotely due to the pandemic and had fewer chances for one-on-one deal-making.

Gazelka and Hortman told Minnesota Public Radio that they expected to nail down final details Monday morning after reaching verbal agreements during weekend talks that ended at around 12:15 a.m. Monday. They also said they expect police accountability measures will be part of the final package, but they didn’t give details.

Hortman said they were “very, very close” and hoped to “dot some i’s and cross some t’s” before unveiling the details. Deciding how to spend $2.8 billion in federal COVID-19 relief money was one of the main complications, she said. The state didn’t get federal guidance on how it can spend that money until last week.

“We think that we’re on the precipice of an agreement, but we want to make sure that we’re all on the same page, (that) we understood each other. … It’s one thing to think you’ve agreed; it’s another to be able to write bills that appropriate 50-plus billion dollars,” Hortman told MPR.

The speaker said it will be up to the conference committee negotiating the public safety budget bill to find common ground and decide which police accountability proposals passed by the House will make it into the final version.

Gazelka wouldn’t say which policing proposals passed by the House might make the final cut, but he told MPR they would not include civilian oversight boards or weakening the qualified immunity that shields law enforcement officers from liability when they use force.

Senate Republicans had resisted the policing package passed by the House, saying they wanted to focus on the budget and allow time to implement a policing bill that passed last summer following the death of George Floyd. The new package was spearheaded by the legislative People of Color and Indigenous Caucus, which had hoped to build on the momentum of the murder conviction of former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin in Floyd’s death.

Republicans also resisted calls by Walz and Democratic lawmakers for income tax increases on the wealthy and for some other taxes, saying there was no need for a tax increase when the state was facing a $1.6 billion surplus and had $2.8 billion in federal coronavirus aid coming. One of the sticking points in the negotiations was whether the state should fully exempt federal Paycheck Protection Program loans and unemployment insurance benefits from state taxes, or impose caps to capture some of that revenue from better-off companies.