ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Legislature is one step closer to passing its state budget, moving forward a multi-billion-dollar, two-year budget for the state’s Department of Transportation.
With the transportation budget on its way to the Senate one week before the state's deadline, lawmakers hope to have avoided the fate of having to notify contractors that the state would be unable to pay them on time.
After hours of debate, the Democratic-controlled House on Wednesday, June 23, voted 112-21 to pass a transportation budget: $3.3 billion in Fiscal Year 2022 and $3.2 billion in 2023, increasing general fund spending by $200 million over the next two years. Major components of the bill include funding for roads and bridges infrastructure, a second daily train to Chicago, public transportation, reopening of drivers license centers and more.
The transportation package is just one of 13 total state budgets that need to be approved by a June 30 deadline, or else state departments could be shut down, forcing state employee layoffs, facilities closures and pauses to services. With the House’s approval and the votes teed up in the Senate, the bill could be off to Gov. Tim Walz’s desk for his signature by Thursday, June 24.
Time is particularly of the essence for the Department of Transportation budget: On Monday, Walz said if the budget deal isn’t in place by Thursday, the state would have to start notifying contractors that the state would be unable to pay them.
On the House floor Wednesday, Rep. Frank Hornstein, D-Minneapolis, who chaired the House Transportation Committee, celebrated the bill’s bipartisan consensus between the House and Republican-controlled Senate. He said the final product, though not perfect for one party or the other, has “provisions big and small … so many provisions in this bill that will help people and that will build a better transportation system.”
“There are provisions that are deeply heartfelt for our (Democratic) caucus and for me personally that are not included in this bill. I would say that (Republican) Chairman (Scott) Newman would say the same,” he said. “However, we move forward on some significant priorities on both sides of the aisle.”
Notably left out of the bipartisan package was an increase in taxes on gas and vehicle sales — an increase proposed by Democrats but staunchly opposed by Republicans.
With the clock ticking, the state Senate sped up the process by holding its debate on the transportation omnibus on Tuesday, before the House. The House has to vote on budget items first in the Legislature, but with its debate concluded, senators can now quickly pass the transportation bill as soon as Thursday.
Following the Senate’s debate on Tuesday, Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, who chairs the Senate’s Transportation Committee, celebrated the transportation bill: Specifically, its focus on prioritization of funding for roads and bridges.
“Roads and bridges. That has been the top Republican transportation priority from day one, and that’s what we are reemphasizing with this bill,” Newman said in a statement Tuesday. “Most importantly, this was done without new taxes, new fees, or mileage taxes. The state has plenty of money; there’s no need to ask Minnesotans to pay more.”
Next up in the Legislature’s push to approve all 13 state budgets by deadline: The House is set to consider a state government budget bill on Thursday, then employment and environment budgets on Friday. Lawmakers say the greatest sticking point remains its public safety budget bill, with Democrats and Republicans still in disagreement on police reform proposals.