ST. PAUL — Senate Republicans this week said they were ready to pull one of their levers of power against Gov. Tim Walz's administration if they didn't get answers from various state agency heads about flawed purchases.
The threat came Wednesday, Nov. 13, during a hearing about roughly 1,800 contract law violations reported by Minnesota agencies in the last year. The violations happened when vendors and contractors working with the state began work before state contracts were signed and when state workers committed to spending money before they got agency sign-off.
None of the violations allowed for payments that weren't approved by lawmakers, a Department of Health and Human Services executive said. And the administration is working to better train state employees to avoid future violations.
But irked by a lack of transparency around other problems at the agency and a perceived lack of respect shown by the Walz administration, Republicans threatened to hold up commissioner confirmations in 2020. Walz appointed the commissioners earlier this year and none have been approved by the Senate.
Sen. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, suggested the idea Wednesday, noting that the heads of DHS and Minnesota Management and Budget weren't at the table to discuss contract law violations. The commissioners were in an all-day summit with tribal leaders and sent other agency officials to speak on their behalf.
"The fact that they are not here today tells me that maybe they’re not very serious about this problem," Westrom said, "and maybe the Senate shouldn’t be that serious about confirming them.”
The panel's chair Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Vernon Center, told Forum News Service Republicans would reserve the option to reject confirmations if Walz and his commissioners didn't show GOP lawmakers more respect.
"All we’re hearing are excuses and ‘it’s not my fault’ and fingerpointing in different directions and frankly just not including us in the conversation and I find that troubling," Rosen said. "We are here truly in the best interest of the taxpayers and to do it right and it seems like there are politics that are being played.”
Walz on Thursday said he'd asked for regular reporting of the contract violations and planned to ask lawmakers to consider some changes to state laws in 2020. He reiterated that the violations didn't misspend state dollars.
"I certainly think innuendo that there’s no control is pretty disingenuous especially (from) senators who have been there decades while this was going on and never said anything," the first-term governor told reporters at an unrelated event. "We’re more than willing to give them whatever they need but help us on this, help us make it work a little better, assure the public. And when there’s time to be outraged, be outraged."
Lawmakers are set to return to St. Paul for the 2020 legislative session on Feb. 11. And GOP senators said they planned to hold additional hearings about the violations.
Forum News Service reporter Sarah Mearhoff contributed to this report.