Hortman on GOP negotiating position: ‘Bull crap on top of bull crap’

By: - March 16, 2022 7:46 am

The gold quadriga stands atop the Minnesota Capitol. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

Minnesota House Speaker Melissa Hortman was livid late Tuesday, as negotiations broke down and a deadline came and went for Minnesota to pay back money owed to the federal government, which lent the state $2.7 billion to help pay unemployment benefits during the pandemic.

“The answer to a math problem is not ‘no,'” Hortman said.

As a result of the missed deadline, employers are now facing an increase in payroll taxes to start paying down the deficit. They’ll pay a higher than usual “base rate” plus a 14% special assessment.

Republicans blamed Democrats for the tax hike. State Sen. Eric Pratt, R-Prior Lake, accused House Democrats of intentionally missing the deadline. He warned that small businesses could be forced to shut down. Or, that the new cost would be passed on to customers, which could juice inflation, while the unemployment insurance system teeters on shaky ground. 

House Democrats insist any agreement on the unemployment fund should require Republicans to make good on a negotiated deal made last year to provide hazard pay to the roughly 667,000 front-line workers who worked in-person during the worst of the pandemic. The workers were in meat processing plants, warehouses, heath and long-term care facilities, prisons and other high-risk sites.

“I chose to walk out,” Hortman told the Reformer, “when the Senate Majority Leader (Jeremy Miller) proffered the theory that our agreement to give $250 million to front-line workers expired on September 6th.”

Hortman added: “It was a pile of bull crap on top of a pile of bull crap.”

Miller sought to divorce the unemployment insurance issue from the deal on essential worker hazard pay.

“Let’s put all the proposals on the table to put more money back in the pockets of Minnesotans, but that’s a separate discussion than (unemployment insurance),” Miller said, according to Minnesota Public Radio.

The negotiations are complicated by the upcoming election, with both sides desperate to activate their base and persuade swing voters in a volatile political environment.

Voters will choose all 201 lawmakers this fall, with redrawn maps following the census and a bevy of open races.

Hortman said there’s no reason the two sides can’t come to an agreement, however.

“It’s not like we’re debating gun violence prevention policies or Roe versus Wade. There’s a middle,” she said. “This is really a math problem. Of all the negotiation problems we have to solve, math ones should be the easy ones.”

DFL Gov. Tim Walz, who also faces reelection this year, has joined the negotiations, to no avail.

“The only bad outcome in this deal is not doing a deal. That really seems to me to be the only bad outcome you can get in this case,” Walz said.

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J. Patrick Coolican
J. Patrick Coolican

J. Patrick Coolican is Editor-in-Chief of Minnesota Reformer. Previously, he was a Capitol reporter for the Minneapolis Star Tribune for five years, after a Knight-Wallace Fellowship at the University of Michigan and time at the Las Vegas Sun, Seattle Times and a few other stops along the way. He lives in St. Paul with his wife and two young children