Clock ticking to pass budget as lawmakers return in special session to finish work

By: - June 14, 2021 3:19 pm

Lawmakers returned to St. Paul on June 14, 2021 for a special legislative session. Refinery workers were at the Capitol advocating in favor of legislation intended to make their workplace safer. Photo by Ricardo Lopez/Minnesota Reformer

Lawmakers returned on Monday to a noisy Capitol brimming with visiting Minnesotans for the first time in 14 months. The joyous mood was tempered by the clock — time is ticking to complete a new $52 billion state budget or force the state into a government shutdown. 

The Legislature has until midnight on June 30 to pass a two-year budget. Since last month, a select group of lawmakers have been negotiating various aspects of the state’s budget, while also tussling over policy decisions that stand to have vast impact on public safety and policing, smog emissions, and the state’s eviction moratorium. 

These so-called working groups, made up of lawmakers who had previously been part of conference committees that hash out differences between House and Senate budget bills, have been working largely out of public view to figure out the details of the new state budget. 

A handful of budget bills have been completed, while several still remain outstanding. 

House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said Monday before the House gaveled in for the special session that she expects it will take as many as 10 days to complete a new state budget and adjourn the special session. 

Part of the reason, she said, is the intended plans by the House Republican caucus to force lengthy floor debates on budget bills. Hortman said House Republicans presented five demands in exchange for their cooperation, which included the immediate termination of Walz’s emergency powers. Hortman said House Democrats had no intention of capitulating to Republicans on those issues. 

“It is a slow grind,” said House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley. “It is a challenging environment in which to be a legislator and to put together a state budget. But the good news is the products that we are arguing about or negotiating about are all good things. It’s a question of how good we can make it for the state.”

With the assent of the state Executive Council, comprising the constitutional officers, DFL Gov. Tim Walz officially extended his 30-day peacetime emergency declaration, a move that allows him to continue directing the state’s COVID-19 vaccination and testing efforts. The declaration triggers a legislative vote to overturn his emergency powers. Senate Republicans have sought to end the emergency declaration for a year, but House Democrats have backed Walz. 

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, told reporters after the Senate recessed a brief floor session that he agreed that 10 days might be the length of a special session. 

But despite ideological differences, both Hortman and Gazelka said there are no plans to let the state government temporarily shutter.

“The fact is, if we did not get done by July 1, the ramifications are too serious for Minnesota,” Gazelka said. 

The biggest sticking point between the House and Senate appears to be police reform proposals. Some changes are expected, though they will not go as far as urban Democrats had hoped. 

Among them are a requirement that state conservation officers who work under the Department of Natural Resources wear body-worn cameras. DNR officers have been deployed to assist other law enforcement during large-scale protests and other events over much of the past year. 

Gazelka also says Senate Republicans will continue pushing for a delay in the implementation of the proposed so-called Clean Car rules by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, saying they may not be implemented until after the 2022 election. 

Hortman said she expected the public safety budget bill to be completed last, but said they had given public safety committee chairs an additional $30 million to spend to help reach a compromise budget bill.

Both sides appear to be holding onto some leverage, however. 

Hortman said that the tax bill is completed, but the House will not be passing it until they are satisfied with the outcome of the budget negotiations. By law, tax bills have to originate in the House. Similarly, she said, the Senate is likely to hold on to the state government budget bill until the Senate is also satisfied with the final budget outcome.

Demonstrators return to Capitol

For the first time since March 2020, the Capitol is now fully reopened to the public, marking progress in access to the public building where lawmakers decide on billions of dollars in state spending every other year. 

Banging pots and pans, blowing air horns and ringing cowbells, far-right demonstrators descended on the Capitol and outside of the Minnesota Senate Building to decry Walz’s executive powers, taking aim at Gazelka for not doing more to curb Walz’s powers. 

“What’s happening now is basically a dictatorship,” said Michele Even, a Prior Lake stay-at-home mom who helped organize the demonstration. “All the power is in the hands of Tim Walz. When we have an elected body, the House and the Senate, and they basically have turned over all power to Walz and left we, the people, voiceless.”

Refinery workers also demonstrated outside of the House and Senate chambers, calling on lawmakers to pass a bill requiring refineries to use a majority of workers who have undergone an accredited apprenticeship programs. Workers say the Marathon oil refinery in St. Paul Park has become hazardous because of poorly trained nonunion labor and subcontractors

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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.