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Budget negotiations hit a roadblock as tensions rise at the Capitol

House Speaker Melissa Hortman discusses the breakdown of budget negations with the Senate during a May 7 news conference. Photo by Paul Battaglia

Updated — 6:15 p.m.

Less than two weeks remain until the Legislature must constitutionally finish its work and the lack of agreement between leaders could imperil the goal of finishing on time.

Gov. Tim Walz and legislative leaders met briefly Tuesday afternoon, but have little to show for their efforts.

“I think we’ll get it done, but stay tuned,” said Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R-Nisswa).

“I’m still fighting for that budget that I believe makes Minnesota most competitive,” Walz said.

Joint budget negotiations hit a roadblock Monday when leaders of the House, Senate and Walz failed to reach an agreement by their self-imposed deadline of May 6.

Governor Tim Walz Media Availability

The stall followed days of behind-closed door negotiations, in which leaders presumably worked to hammer out spending targets for different state agencies including health and human services, education, transportation and taxes — areas where there are great chasms between the House and Senate versions.

Less than 24 hours later?

“We really don’t have anything to talk about until the Senate makes a real counteroffer,” said House Speaker Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Park). “The governor made a substantial move in their direction and the House made an even more substantial move and the Senate countered with zero.”

Walz offered a $200 million cut to his budget Monday night, but a subsequent Senate offer to shift funds to produce more spending for education was deemed unacceptable.

“They would prefer that we make the next offer; we’re hoping that they make the next offer,” Gazelka said. “Our issue is we want them to make movement on the large tax increases across many different areas. Over a four-year period it was $12 billion. We’re saying, ‘Show us that that is not too high.’ We feel that is way, way high as far as tax increases on Minnesotans.”

Minnesota House DFL Media Availability

Walz noted some Senate committee chairs, education for example, lamented the low targets they received.

“When you give us an offer that your own chairs say is grossly inadequate to do what it needs to do that’s not a real offer,” Walz said. “This is the time to start being serious, it’s the time to not be posturing. I think that’s exactly what’s going on.”

Gazelka said the very latest an agreement should be reached is next Wednesday, May 15. “We are still way ahead of schedule. The fact that we’ve had some offers back and forth this early is a good sign.”


No consensus

Not only can neither party can agree on a spending package, there doesn’t seem to be consensus on what has been put on the table so far.

A statement from Gazelka earlier Tuesday said Hortman and Walz have yet to “drop even one cent of their massive four-year $12 billion tax increase agenda.”

Hortman contested that during a morning news conference, explaining that both Walz and the House have reduced their overall budget targets.

“What Sen. Gazelka said is just patently untrue,” she explained. “The governor moved $200 million, we proposed to move $664 million if the Senate made a substantial move, so to say that we have not moved one cent is dishonest.”


What’s ahead?

Leaders are scheduled to be in a boat with Walz at the Governor’s Fishing Opener Saturday in Albert Lea, and another negotiation is planned at the Capitol Sunday evening.

Minnesota Senate Republican Media Availability 5/7/19

“I told Sen. Gazelka I will drop whatever I’m doing between now and Sunday at 6 if they have a real counteroffer and we can pick up negotiations again,” Hortman said.  “… It’s in the interest of Minnesotans and the Legislature for them to put a real offer on the table before then because we really should be trying to do this in daylight and in an orderly fashion. Being stubborn and intransigent doesn’t help the process.”

Prior to Monday, lawmakers managed to remain on or ahead of schedule. Going forward, Hortman concedes their next self-imposed deadline will not be met.

“The May 13 deadline will no longer apply because conference committees cannot close up their bills without a target, but I’m optimistic that we will continue to be ahead of schedule,” she said at the news conference. “The fact that there were offers discussed on May 6 is a positive step forward.”

The only way to accomplish that, however, is to work nights and weekends, Hortman said.   

“We are now 13 days until the end of session, and I understand that we have fishing opener, I understand that we have Mother’s Day,” she said, “but we’ve got a job to do.”


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