State Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, addressed reporters on Oct. 19, 2020, urging Gov. Tim Walz to reduce COVID-19 regulations. Photo by Ricardo Lopez/Minnesota Reformer.
Senate Republicans on Tuesday issued the opening salvo in legislative budget negotiations, making public their first offer with House DFL leadership.
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, outlined his caucus’s priorities during a brief news conference, calling for no tax increases to balance the state’s budget, which currently is forecasted to see a $1.6 billion budget surplus.
The Legislature and Gov. Tim Walz must agree on a two year budget by June 30, which is the end of the state’s fiscal year. Otherwise parts of the government will shut down. The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn much sooner, however, on May 17, after which only Walz can call them into a special session to finish their work.
Senate Republicans also proposed that small businesses that received Paycheck Protection Plan loans be exempt from state taxes on that revenue. The Senate estimates the proposal would cost $455 million. They also want to exempt from state taxes up to $10,200 in unemployment insurance issued to people who lost their jobs due to the pandemic.
The offer also includes a number of controversial new laws, including requiring voter identification, which the Senate GOP approved on Monday on a party-line vote. Walz and his fellow Democrats are firmly opposed to the idea, which Minnesota voters rejected in 2012.
Republicans also want to require licensure of facilities that perform abortions, similar to a bill former DFL Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed in 2017.
Republicans, who have long sought to curtail Walz’s emergency powers during the pandemic, are also calling for the governor to lift restrictions on businesses, schools and youth sports. The offer calls for Walz to rescind his statewide mask mandate in places of public accommodation.
New in the offer is a call to waive penalties levied against businesses that violated Walz’s COVID-19 executive orders. A number of businesses have defied Walz’s restrictions and operated restaurants and other facilities in spite of public health restrictions.
A spokesman for House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Senate GOP offer.
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