As session deadline nears, budget deal pushes aside policy goals

Mike KnaakEditorial, Print Sartell - St. Stephen, Print St. Joseph0 Comments

The end is near.

Legislators are heading toward a deadline of midnight Monday, May 20, to finish their work.

Despite the best intentions at the start of the session to look for early compromises and stick to a deadline to wrap up committee work, the big decisions will happen at the last minute.

Last year, the Republican-controlled Legislature and DFL Gov. Mark Dayton deadlocked over key issues – an outcome that left voters dissatisfied.

This year, the picture is a little more complicated with Democrats controlling the governor’s office and House and Republicans holding a slim majority in the Senate.

Both parties will need to compromise on the state budget or a special session will be needed by June 30 to avoid a shutdown. Gov. Walz and legislative leadership failed to meet their self-imposed May 6 deadline to agree to budget targets.

Walz originally proposed new spending of $1.9 billion and asked for a 20-cents-a-gallon gasoline tax increase and restoration of the medical provider tax. Earlier this week, Walz offered to cut the gas tax increase to 16 cents.

The Republicans want only $322 million of new spending, no provider tax and no 20-cent gas tax increase. With a $1 billion surplus, they say there is no need for higher taxes.

As of Monday, the last time leaders made detailed comments, the two sides were $1.6 billion apart, according to The Associated Press.

As budget negotiations continue, key policy decisions could become bargaining chips as each party’s policy priorities take a back seat to taxes and spending.

Key issues still in play in addition to the gas tax and the medical provider tax include opioid treatment and election security.

As a House-Senate conference committee works out differences in a gun safety bill, universal background checks and red flag provisions the House approved could still become law as a part of a deal….or not.

A bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks could also be a bargaining chip, but it is strongly opposed by Walz and House Democrats.

Both houses have agreed on expanding the Clean Indoor Act to cover e-cigarettes but a conference committee has yet to decide on raising the age for buying tobacco to 21.

Ending the legislative session without a deadlock and the frustration of last year will require both parties to do more than just say No.

Senate Republicans so far have blocked Walz’s agenda. He should not and will not surrender on every issue.

Republicans need to acknowledge the political reality that Walz clobbered their candidate, Jeff Johnson, who ran on lower taxes and less government. Walz won by campaigning for more spending on roads and schools, gun safety and climate change.

House Republicans lost their majority to the Democrats, who now hold a 16-seat majority, with a platform similar to Johnson’s.

During the election, voters said they wanted results, not deadlock and inaction. Legislators and the governor have until Monday to prove they can deliver.

Author: Mike Knaak

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