By Rep. Shane Mekeland
The 2021 legislative session adjourned several hours before the Monday deadline, with no budget approved and more questions asked than answers provided.
The whole series of events was a bit surreal. If history tells us anything, it’s that the last legislative day of any given session will be a marathon – especially in a budget year, such as 2021.
This usually includes a race against the clock, with last-minute dealings taking place. Legislators frantically work to iron out the final bits of compromise so a budget can be approved and sent to the governor in time to adjourn promptly at midnight (or a few minutes later if someone covers the clock with a sheet to hide the time; it’s happened).
With that in mind, I stocked up on Mountain Dew, beef jerky and chips to keep me going into the night on Monday. I was ready for the long haul and then, around 2:30 p.m., the majority leader stood up and adjourned the session. That was it. No budget was in place and we didn’t even clear of the calendar of other bills on the House agenda that day.
We entered that final day without formal agreement on a new two-year state budget. Reports surfaced in the morning indicating the governor and legislative leaders struck the framework of a deal but the actual work to put the plan in place was punted to a future special session.
This left us with the least productive regular session in nearly four decades, with zero budget bills reaching the governor’s desk during the 2021 regular session.
The expectation remains for the governor to call a special session in mid-June to extend his emergency powers into a 16th month and budget work could be taken up then. Session adjournment aside, the June 30 end of the fiscal year seems to be viewed by many as the “real” deadline for a budget.
Any hope of reaching a budget agreement in time for bill passage during the session evaporated with the House majority clinging to tax increases right down to the wire. While the details of a new budget have yet to be ironed out, it appears as if tax increases have been abandoned and state taxes on federal Payment Protection Program loans and unemployment will be lifted. The unfortunate thing is this action should have happened months ago. Delaying passage has caused even more headaches for people now that the tax deadline has passed.
There are several other issues that need more work and I will continue fighting for as the details of the next budget are put in place. For one, we need to establish an end date for the governor’s emergency powers that currently have no end in sight despite the fact there is no emergency in our state. We also should keep working to end the governor’s push to require Minnesota’s automobiles to adhere to California’s regulations. And, with billions of federal stimulus dollars coming to our state, we must ensure there is legislative oversight and control over every penny of the federal funds.
Many more of the finer points need to be sorted out before a special session takes place to finish the budget work and I am sure this will be an ongoing topic of discussion. In the meantime, let’s continue working to improve this budget as much as possible before it is finalized.