Our View: Budget deal in St. Paul needed to happen sooner
From the editorial: "This one ... feels a bit like an every-kid-gets-one participation trophy."
On Monday, Gov. Tim Walz stood with legislative leaders from both chambers and from both parties and proudly declared that they had reached a bipartisan compromise on a $52 billion state budget framework.
Yes, framework. Not the actual budget yet. Just spending targets. Something the governor and lawmakers should have gotten done long before the legislative session’s final day. If they had, final details could have been worked out, bills written, and other legislation taken care of — all on time. And maybe not in secret.
While any bipartisan compromise can be cheered in today’s toxic political climate — even this one, which feels a bit like an every-kid-gets-one participation trophy — the Legislature will still need to be called back for a special session: overtime work with overtime pay and other additional costs picked up by, who else, us taxpayers.
Nonetheless, many local lawmakers, legislative leaders, and the governor mustered enthusiasm for what they finally got done — after 4½ months of doing little. Some comments are rounded up here. Try not to slow clap.
‘Some good bipartisan work’
“The past year has been incredibly challenging for everyone, but COVID-19’s impacts haven’t been felt equally. The work is far from over, but our budget roadmap means we will be able to make historic investments in schools; strengthen health care for Minnesotans; and help protect economic security for workers, small businesses, and families following COVID-19. Today, on the last day of the legislative session, we accomplished some good bipartisan work in health care, agriculture, and public safety. Minnesotans are expecting us to work together, and I’m hopeful we can enact a final budget that will enable all Minnesotans, no matter where they live or what they look like, to have a bright, successful future.”
— Rep. Liz Olson, DFL-Duluth, the House deputy majority leader, in a prepared statement Monday
‘Budget (will help) our state recover’
“As we continue to turn the corner beyond COVID-19, this budget framework enables us to make sizable investments in education, health care, and everything else Minnesotans value from state government. We have the ability to collaborate across party lines for the good of Minnesotans, and we proved this earlier today by passing a significant Health and Human Services policy bill. It will take a good-faith commitment from both sides, but I’m confident in the coming weeks we will have a final state budget that helps our state recover from the pandemic and enables Minnesotans to succeed well into the future.”
— Rep. Jen Schultz, DFL-Duluth, in a prepared statement Monday
‘I am disappointed’
“We're seeing a lot of headlines that there is a budget deal for Minnesota. This is not quite accurate. Leadership has agreed to budget targets, which dictate how much will be spent in each budget area. Frankly, from what I see so far, I am disappointed. The budget targets should set Minnesota toward a recovery from the effects of the pandemic and help us build toward our future. Unfortunately, most of the budget targets hover just above or below the previous biennium’s budget when we account for inflation. Not agreeing to these budget targets until the last day of session means that committee chairs will be hashing out the final bills behind closed doors, and the budget will not be finalized until June when the Legislature returns for the special session. If there was a true budget deal today, we would not have adjourned hours before our constitution mandates. We would have finished the work the people of Minnesota sent us here to do.”
— Sen. Jen McEwen, DFL-Duluth, in a written statement Tuesday to the News Tribune Opinion page
‘A little worried how sustainable it is’
“I think it’s a good outcome. It’s got a lot of spending in it. There was plenty of money (with the) $4.4 billion (surplus) to avoid revenue increases, so that was a good thing. This economy is pretty shaky still coming out of this pandemic, so I think some stability on the tax side is a good thing for businesses and individuals. What worries me a little bit — you know, I always look down the road — is we took all this federal money, … converted it to general fund, and then plugged it into the budget over the next four years. But at the end of the day, it’s not general fund, so I’m a little worried how sustainable it is in the biennium beyond that. … We’ll have to continue to have a pretty robust economic recovery for this budget to be sustainable beyond the planning horizon that we normally use, which is two bienniums. The leaders recognized that. … That’s the reason when you look at that budget document, they left $1.2 billion unspent of federal money. That’s pretty important. That tells you everyone was a little nervous that what we were doing is not going to be sustainable.”
— Sen. Tom Bakk, I-Cook, in a telephone interview Tuesday with the News Tribune Opinion page
“This bipartisan budget confronts the challenges we face today while investing in the future to help Minnesotans emerge from this crisis stronger than before. Not every Minnesotan was hit by COVID-19 equally — many families and small businesses have struggled tremendously over the past year. That is why it’s so important that we make it easier for families to get by, ensure our students catch up on learning loss, and provide support to our small businesses.
“I’m proud that the agreement we reached makes historic investments in education while providing tax cuts for Minnesotans across the state. This demonstrates that, despite a divided Legislature, Minnesotans are united by our shared values: We look out for our neighbors, we want everyone to have an opportunity to succeed, and we all do better when we all do better.”
— Gov. Tim Walz, in a prepared statement Monday
‘Businesses … have struggled enough’
“We have budget targets that don’t raise any taxes. … We have full PPP and full unemployment insurance conformity for tax relief. … We have agreed to put most of the federal funds under the control of the Legislature to help recover from COVID. … We have broadband, transportation, education, and health care funding to support Minnesota families across the state at school, work, and recreation. I remain committed to not passing anything that is anti-police or makes the job of law enforcement more difficult. Since the emergency is over, the House and Gov. Walz should agree to the veto-proof, bipartisan eviction-moratorium off ramp and lifting COVID fines on businesses which have struggled enough.”
— Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, in a prepared statement Monday
‘A lot of area for agreement’
“We’re in a position to give tax cuts, to have historic funding in E-12, really an enormous investment in education because of the American Rescue Plan dollars. … We have enough money to really invest in equity and closing gaps, and that’s a particularly rewarding piece of this work for me on the money side. … On the policy side, we do have more work to do. … And really pivotal among that is criminal justice reform. We think there is a lot of area for agreement.”
— House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, in remarks to media members Monday