Minnesota lawmakers race the clock to hash out $8 billion tax and spending plans
Lawmakers on Wednesday tried to flesh out details for several spending bills at the Capitol ahead of a legislative deadline.
ST. PAUL — Minnesota lawmakers on Wednesday, May 18, started fleshing out the specifics on how they'd spend more than $8 billion on a tax plan, funding for schools, health care programs and police agencies as the clock ticked down on their remaining time in St. Paul.
Conference committees at the Capitol met for closed negotiations, and in public, they approved policies and spending proposals that gained support from both sides of the divided Statehouse.
With just four days left in the legislative session, lawmakers also prepared for tense debates and long hours ahead.
“It’s sausage-making, it’s a little messy," Gov. Tim Walz told reporters. “They’re getting the work done."
Earlier in the week, Walz and legislative leaders announced their framework for spending almost $9 billion over the next three years with roughly $4 billion set aside for a tax bill, $1 billion earmarked for K-12 schools, $1 billion designated for health and human services programs and $450 million designated for public safety. And on Wednesday, they made public their targets for other areas of state government spending.
The heads of conference committees charged with funding K-12 schools, health and human services, state government, transportation, agriculture and other programs then took those targets and started debating what they could afford to fund this year and what proposals would have to be left behind.
Some lawmakers in those public hearings said they were hopeful about getting a deal done ahead of deadline. Meanwhile, other committee chairs hit impasses as they tried to negotiate between the GOP-led Senate and DFL-controlled House of Representatives.
In a news release, Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, said a public safety plan put forward by House Democrats wasn't "serious and complete." And in a public safety conference committee meeting Wednesday afternoon, Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul, said he was discouraged that Senate Republicans were absent for a hearing on the proposal.
"Frankly, I don't know why you don't show up to a room where someone is willing to meet you," Mariani said. "It's tough to do counteroffers and to build things when you're not in the room."
Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, on Tuesday told reporters that some of the bigger bills like the health and human services plan needed to be wrapped up by Wednesday evening so that the legislative revisor has enough time to process the bill before floor votes.
He said he was hopeful that the committees would reach agreements quickly but said legislative leaders would take over negotiations in different areas if the lawmakers couldn't strike deals by Thursday.
"We're going to continue to put pressure on the conference committees to get their work done," Miller said. "If for some reason they can't, then the speaker and I might have to step in and help out. But our hope and our goal is to see the conference committees get their work done without the leaders having to step in.”
Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Jensen on Wednesday tweeted that Republicans in the Legislature should "hold the line" and send the full state budget surplus back to taxpayers.
The legislative session is set to come to a close on Monday, May 23, but the deadline to vote on bills is 11:59 p.m. Sunday, May 22. Walz has said he does not want to call lawmakers back for a special legislative session.