We’ve come to expect it: The Minnesota Legislature hits its required adjournment date with the most important business – the biennial budget – undone.
It was a disappointment to hear that the legislature’s work was pushed out a month, but not a surprise. Our divided state politicians seem to enjoy ignoring the deadline and drawing hard lines in the sand for four and a half months before buckling down to find some agreement. In mid-April, when this Editorial Board met with three of the state’s four legislative leaders, they were optimistic their business would be completed on time.
It was encouraging that a budget framework was agreed upon May 17, when legislative leaders and Gov. Tim Walz’s administration crafted a significant policy and fiscal blueprint for the state. The legislature then adjourned, as required by law. Legislative working groups will now need to make decisions on exactly how the bills align with the target budget numbers contained in the package; this work must be completed by June 4.
Though not yet voted upon, the massive legislation will likely be presented in a special session in mid-June to be called by the governor. Lawmakers have a July 1 deadline to avoid a state government shut down.
The current budget has a $1.6 billion surplus and an additional $2.8 billion from the American Rescue Plan which is carried forward in the new budget. Lawmakers will have some involvement on how Walz intends to spend that money. “This is a numbers-only agreement,” said DFL House Speaker Melissa Hortman. Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, GOP, has long been optimistic about getting the budget work done on time. Walz said the recent tax and budget agreement “sets the tone…the good will, the compromise.”
Among the areas of agreement:
- $52 billion two-year budget. Big winners are COVID recovery plans and education ($525 million more next year into the education funding formula and $675 million in the second year of the upcoming biennium, plus $75 million for summer learning programs.)
- An estimated $754 million in immediate tax relief and $180 million in additional relief in years following.
- Full federal conformity to exempt both unemployment and Paycheck Protection Program income from taxes.
However, many key areas are still uncertain.
Emergency powers now in use in Minnesota (and 44 other states) have been extended here until mid-June — Walz has expressed some willingness to ease back on continued use, insisting the state COVID plan must continue unabated. Republicans continue to argue the emergency is over and Walz has over-reached his authority.
Also unaddressed at this point are a series of police reforms proposed by the House DFL and environmental rules related to climate change. The Republicans in the State Senate are threatening to shut down the state’s parks and other popular amenities because of their opposition to new clean car rules. However, the budget should not be held hostage over policy differences. Those issues can be addressed when lawmakers reconvene next winter.
We echo the frustration of many Minnesotans – why does it take until the last day of the session to reach a compromise that all of the leaders knew was going to happen? DFLers should have gone along with the governor early on and dropped any expectations of passing tax increases. Republicans need to abandon their ultimatum to shut down parks and favorite facilities – even if the threat is only that, telling Minnesotans they care little about summer vacation plans is downright cruel.
We’ve said it many times before: Our state leaders need to work together. They need to listen to each other more than they proselytize. They must all take a few steps back from their hard-line political stances and find some common ground.
We expect better. — An editorial from the Adams Publishing - ECM Editorial Board. Reactions welcome: Send to firstname.lastname@example.org.