This was mostly how it should go, how it’s supposed to end, but Minnesotans can be forgiven if they were a bit surprised late Sunday when news started breaking of a compromise and a budget deal in St. Paul between Gov. Tim Walz and the politically divided Minnesota Legislature.
Yep, there it was: “Compromise” and “Minnesota Legislature” in the same sentence. Somebody mark that down.
How accustomed we in the Gopher State have become instead to legislative sessions ending with chaos, accusations being screamed across the aisle, unwavering hardball stands, an unwillingness to listen or give or even acknowledge, and little accomplished. Last year, as just the latest example, the session ended with then-Gov. Mark Dayton vetoing pretty much everything. The DFL governor had threatened to do so if Republican lawmakers sent him mammoth bills covering many matters, and then Republicans did just that.
Granted, this year’s session isn’t entirely over. There’s still time for politics to be politics and for all that has been accomplished and worked on and agreed to over about five months to come off the rails.
A costs-taxpayers-more special session, even if a short one, is necessary. It’s scheduled for Thursday to wrap things up.
And way too much of the nitty-gritty negotiating between Gov. Walz, DFL House Speaker Melissa Hortman, and Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka happened behind closed doors and in secret. The three promised to work on transparency, though, and can be held to that.
For this moment, however, focusing on the positives that contributed to compromising and deal-making is something we can actually do for a change.
That can start with how Minnesotans dodged a mammoth gas tax increase after Walz’s proposed 70 percent hike ended up scuttled. Also, a tax on medical providers to cover insurance for children, the elderly, disabled and low-income Minnesotans was extended at 1.8 percent, a compromised decrease from 2 percent; provisions were passed to protect Minnesota seniors from abuse inside care facilities; Minnesota’s tax code was finally conformed with the federal tax overhaul, a headache reducer for Minnesotans filing tax returns; and more money was dedicated to education and to push high-speed internet deeper into rural Minnesota.
Nearly everyone, it seemed - from across the political spectrum - was able to find something to cheer.
Gov. Walz said in a statement he was “proud that we came together across party lines to put together a budget that will improve the lives of Minnesotans. … This budget allows for meaningful investments in education, health care, and community prosperity. We set out to show Minnesotans that divided government can work.”
Sen. Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said that under the agreement, “Minnesota is finally going to see income taxes go down for the first time in 20 years,” as the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported. “Stopping the gas tax increase was one of our top priorities.”
Rep. Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said she was “very proud we were able to get this (budget) deal accomplished,” as the Pioneer Press also reported. “The House DFL came in committed to building a Minnesota that works better.”
And Minnesota Chamber President Doug Loon called the budget agreement “a wise use of state tax dollars” with funding for “key state priorities while (also) protecting Minnesota taxpayers and Minnesota employers.”
Divided state government? Not so much this year in St. Paul, as it seems to be turning out. Our governor and lawmakers can be credited for working past politics, for being willing to compromise, and for being committed to doing what’s best for Minnesotans as a whole. Sure was a far cry from legislative sessions of the recent past.