What happened over the past four-and-a-half months at the Minnesota Capitol

By: and - May 21, 2021 8:12 am

The quadriga horses at the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul, Minnesota. Photo by Tony Webster.

It was supposed to be one of the most consequential legislative sessions in a decade.

Instead, lawmakers adjourned on Monday announcing only a broad “numbers-only” budget that still needs to be crafted and passed by June 30 or force the state into a partial government shutdown.

Faced with an $883 million budget deficit, a state in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic and uncertainty around a federal government bailout, Minnesota leaders were ready to fight over potential cuts to state government and perhaps new tax increases.

Legislative leaders effectively extended their own deadline, buying just two more weeks to finish their work but still claimed victory despite the billions of dollars still left to appropriate.

How did we get here?

On Reformer Radio, senior political reporter Ricardo Lopez runs down how the four-and-half month-long session transpired and what key inflection points led to the anti-climactic finish.

Taxing the rich, reforming the police and requiring voter ID were among the thorny political debates that dominated the session, but in the end were put on ice in favor of passing a budget that would prevent the state government from sputtering to a halt.

DFL Gov. Tim Walz, House Speaker Melissa Hortman and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka — somewhat infamously nicknamed “the tribunal” in 2019 — again gathered to set their second budget for the state. The three leaders emerged from a weekend of negotiations on Monday saying that their previous experience setting a budget in 2019 made their second budget easier to agree to.

“It’s a good day, Minnesota,” Walz said. “It proves once again that our democracy is strong. That compromise is a virtue, not a vice.”

Helping cut through the logjam was the infusion of more than $2.8 billion in funding through the American Rescue Plan Act, which provided one-time money for priorities sought by both Democrats and Republicans.

“President Joe Biden and the Democratic members of Congress who voted for the American Rescue Plan made this agreement possible today, where we were able to do pretty much everything everybody wanted,” Hortman said.

A fight over who would have spending power over the federal COVID relief funds has been settled: Lawmakers will get to dictate the spending of almost all of the federal money, save for $500 million that Walz will control as he continues managing the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Senate Republicans, who advocated for no new taxes, are able to say “promise kept,” Gazelka said.

“It was a balanced budget without raising taxes,” he added.

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Max Nesterak
Max Nesterak

Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Most recently he was an associate producer for Minnesota Public Radio after a stint at NPR. He also co-founded the Behavioral Scientist and was a Fulbright Scholar to Berlin, Germany.

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Ricardo Lopez
Ricardo Lopez

Ricardo Lopez is the senior political reporter for the Reformer. Ricardo is not new to Minnesota politics, previously reporting on the Dayton administration and statehouse for The Star Tribune from 2014 to 2017, and the Republican National Convention in 2016. Previously, he was a staff writer at The Los Angeles Times covering the California economy. He's a Las Vegas native who has adopted Minnesota as his home state. In his spare time, he likes to run, cook and volunteer with Save-a-Bull, a Minneapolis dog rescue group.

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