ST. PAUL — Minnesota lawmakers on Wednesday, June 9, unveiled the details of a state budget bill, for the first time in weeks opening up to the public more specifics about how they'd propose to spend $52 billion over the next two years.
The Higher Education Finance and Policy Working Group in a virtual hearing explained how members hoped to spend roughly $3.5 billion on public colleges and universities in the state. But some on the panel said they weren't involved in closed discussions about the bill and raised concerns about it.
That working group along with 13 others met in secret over the last three weeks to hash out a plan for funding various state offices, programs and services. And unlike all but two other groups, it hit its deadlines to post a budget outline and bill.
"We did our work as honestly and as earnestly as we possibly could and I think we came up with a good product," one of the group's leaders Sen. Dave Tomassoni, I-Chisholm, said. "I'm not disappointed with the outcome. The way we got here probably was not as good as it could've been."
Minority party members of the group, meanwhile, said they'd had no say in what went into the bill and disagreed with the plan they were set to put before the full Legislature next week.
"I've had nothing to do with the crafting of this final agreement," Rep. Marion O'Neill, R-Maple Lake, said. "I think it's important to know that the conference committee as a whole didn't craft this. It was the two chairs and the commissioner, so I'm frustrated."
Lawmakers are set to return to St. Paul on Monday, June 14, for a special session to consider a 30-day extension of the state's peacetime emergency for COVID-19 and a two-year state budget. But five days before that deadline, 11 other groups continued closed-door negotiations over how the state should fund schools, public safety, roads and bridges, health care programs, and more.
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The state budget is the one thing lawmakers MUST do this year. And they were unable to finish it before the regular legislative session closed out on May 17. Legislative leaders and the governor presented a framework for the state budget that day but didn't flesh out the details.
Lawmakers now have a June 30 hard deadline to finish a budget or the state government could shut down.
And many working groups seemed to be deadlocked over controversial proposals this week. While negotiations remained closed, members of several groups aired publicly their appeals to have their priorities included in the state's next two-year spending plan.
- On Monday, the Senate leader of the group writing the budget for K-12 schools said negotiations had frozen over and urged Democrats to approve a GOP proposal to let parents use state education dollars to help pay for private or parochial school tuition. Democrats deemed the plan unconstitutional and unrealistic and Gov. Tim Walz said he'd oppose the voucher program.
- House Republicans on Tuesday said negotiations over a set of police accountability measures had yielded little progress as Democrats remained committed to passing a slate of policing law changes that GOP lawmakers viewed as anti-police. And they put forward a plan to use state resources to quell mounting violence in Minneapolis. The House's Democratic leader in that working group, Rep. Carlos Mariani, D-St Paul, said the Republicans were engaging in "non-helpful posturing" and urged legislators to get back to work in reaching a deal.
- And on Wednesday, Democrats working on an offramp for the state's eviction moratorium said talks had stalled out after Republicans attempted to add new provisions to the bill. Republicans, meanwhile, said Democrats had moved the group "backwards" in recent meetings.
With so many budget sections still outstanding, some legislative leaders this week said they were advising lawmakers to plan for a longer stay in St. Paul.
"I do not believe a deal will be reached completely before June 14th," House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, told reporters on Tuesday. "I have been telling people to plan to be in session from June 14th until July 1st at least. And who knows, it could go longer than that."
Other legislative leaders have been more optimistic about lawmakers' ability to negotiate budget bills before the deadline and close out their work for 2021.
Gov. Tim Walz, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, and House Speaker Melissa Hortman, D-Brooklyn Park, have said they'd step in to axe controversial provisions in the budget bills if working groups get stuck, though it wasn't clear when that process would start. And the trio said they thought lawmakers could wrap up a budget earlier than the June 30 hard deadline.
"June is one of Minnesota's most beautiful months, if not its most beautiful month and I don't think anyone wants to be working around the clock every day this spectacular month," Hortman said. "Hopefully people have an incentive to finish up and get outside."