ST. PAUL — Minnesotans with plans to visit state parks or who benefit from state services will get a note from the state in coming days notifying them that their trips or the supports they depend on could be off come July 1 unless the state Legislature can pass a budget by June 30.
As lawmakers entered the second week of a special legislative session, efforts to prepare for a full or partial state government shutdown continued. And news of the possible closure of state parks, health and human services offices and other facets of state government started to roll out Monday, June 21.
The letters are a formality as lawmakers come closer to their deadline to finish a $52 billion budget plan. But as the date drew nearer, Gov. Tim Walz on Monday told reporters that he was working with state agencies to plan contingencies for how they could run on a "bare-bones" basis if they had to.
“From the state perspective, this is closer than we’d like to be so we have to take precautionary measures,” Walz said. “It would be best to have those be hypotheticals and for us to finish this thing today or tomorrow."
But he and legislative leaders said the pressure was on at the Capitol to avoid a shutdown and force a compromise in the coming days. A pair of higher education and outdoor heritage budget bills passed through the Senate on Monday, paving their way to the governor's desk. And several others came up for floor debate or were on the agenda to be discussed on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, six others were still in the works, with money for E-12 education, health and human services, state government and public safety representing some of the areas of most significant divisions between Republicans who control the Senate and Democrats who control the House of Representatives and the governor's office.
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Walz, along with House Speaker Melissa Hortman, D-Brooklyn Park, and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, for weeks had attempted to work with committee chairs to break up disagreements about what should be in each of the spending bills.
The leaders said some of the state's most substantial spending bills were within hours of completion if they weren't yet finished. And they expressed optimism about finishing a state spending plan on time.
“The sooner we can get done, the better," Hortman said. "I don’t think anybody should have any extra stress in their life being concerns about whether we will get done on time. Sen. Gazelka, I and the governor are committed to finishing."
While prior state government shutdowns ended with the state Supreme Court deciding funding levels for state agencies, a 2017 court ruling made clear that the court would not accept that responsibility again since it is the constitutional role of the Legislature to write a budget.
So any areas not funded by July 1 could see layoffs and services grinding to a halt. The ramifications could hit home sooner for different areas of state government.
Walz said the Department of Transportation would have to notify contractors on Thursday that the state would be unable to pay them unless lawmakers get a bill to his desk within days. Gazelka said the looming deadline motivated lawmakers to get a move on and complete outstanding budget bills.
“We cannot allow the state to go to shut down,” Gazelka said. “Think about the courts, think about the jails, think about those facilities that help people, think about all the permits and the marriage licenses, all of the things and by the way, state parks and beer, those were things that people were upset about last time. It’s much much broader and so I refuse to let it get to that place.”
Gazelka and Hortman said controversial policy measures that had stalled some of the bills would be off the table. And for the first time, Hortman said a deal to unwind Walz's emergency powers for COVID-19 would be part of an end deal.
The end of the state's peacetime emergency and the emergency powers had been a key concern for legislative Republicans who'd long called for a stronger role of the Legislature in setting the state's response to COVID-19.
Hortman also said she'd instructed committees to start working around the clock to finish their work in coming days and get bills ready to come up for a vote. Over the weekend, House Republicans spent 14 hours a day filibustering a set of budget bills and delaying votes. But the tone in the chamber ought to change in the final sprint, she said.
“We allowed a lot of rule violations to go over the last three days," she said, "kind of gave them a full and fair opportunity to make idiots out of themselves, which they took us up on and we need to get people back on track respecting the rules of the House.”
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