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'Get ‘er done': Gov. Tim Walz, Minnesota leaders to return to talk $8 billion deal

The governor on Thursday told reporters that he remained hopeful about the prospect of a special session but worried that Republican lawmakers had 'buyer's remorse' about a deal they'd struck for $4 billion in tax relief and $4 billion in spending.

Gov. Tim Walz bill signing
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz speaks at a ceremonial bill signing outside the Minnesota Capitol building on Thursday, June 2, 2022.
Dana Ferguson / Forum News Service
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ST. PAUL — Minnesota legislative leaders are set to meet Friday, June 3, to decide if lawmakers should be called back to St. Paul for a special session to hash out the last pieces of an $8 billion deal they left on the table.

Gov. Tim Walz said he planned to sit down with House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, and Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, for the first time since lawmakers closed out the legislative session last month without approving several tax relief and spending bills.

The meeting comes after stakeholder groups that work in long-term care, education, mental health, trade unions, city governments and others called on the Legislature to come back and pass the proposals to help stave off staffing crises, the loss of federal funds for infrastructure projects around the state and potential jobs and projects.

So far, legislative leaders in the divided Statehouse have split over whether the governor should call legislators back to take up unfinished work in overtime. Walz and Democrats at the Capitol said the extra time is necessary to wrap up the $8 billion deal they made at the end of the session, while Republicans have said they remain far apart and doubted they could reach an agreement.

“It is my expectation that we will come to the agreement on how we get past these logjams but it concerns me that before we talked (Republicans are) already talking about they don’t want to do it or they’re too far apart," Walz told reporters outside the Capitol. "I think we’re on the one-yard line and it sounds like they want to take a knee, I do not want to take a knee. Just finish this thing, get ‘er done."

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Walz earlier this week said that legislative leaders were within $200 million on a slate of spending bills, far closer than the billions of dollar differences that divided them in the final hours of the legislative session. But a spokeswoman for Senate Republicans said that assessment didn't match with conversations he'd had with GOP leaders.

Miller, the senate majority leader, hasn't publicly weighed in on the situation in a week. Prior to leaving St. Paul at the close of the legislative session, he said he wouldn't write off a special session but didn't feel hopeful about disagreements getting resolved in overtime.

Assistant Senate Majority Leader Zach Duckworth, R-Lakeville, on Thursday said negotiations on a K-12 education funding bill ended in May with the close of the legislative session.

“The unfortunate thing is that as we closer and closer to the end of the session, as we put forward a lot of our commonsense ideas and where the funding should go, it just kept getting marred down in a bunch of additional policy and stuff that didn’t make sense," Duckworth said.

Duckworth said responses about a potential special session yielded a "mixed bag" of responses in his community, but many said the government should focus on getting money back to Minnesotans and avoiding additional spending as they face higher rates of inflation and costs of gas, food and other items.

As part of the end-of-session deal between Walz, Miller and Hortman, the leaders agreed to spend $4 billion on new state spending, $4 billion to tax relief and leave $4 billion on the bottom line in case the state's economy took a turn. On the last day of the session, that framework faced a snag as spending plans for education, public safety, health and human services and transportation remained unfinished.

Without the plans, House leaders held up a vote on the tax bill, meanwhile, Senate leaders blocked a vote on funding bills for higher education and environmental programs. And in the aftermath, Democrats and Republicans pointed to the other party when asked what blocked the deal.

Senate Republicans said Democrats in the House should've passed the tax bill as soon as it was ready, even if spending bills didn't make it.

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Democrats said the $8 billion needed to move together, with the tax and spending pieces all making it through. Walz said he still supported the broader framework and was frustrated that Miller said some provisions could advance without the rest.

“There may be some buyer’s remorse on some people but that is not how this is supposed to work,” Walz said.

Stakeholders call for special session

For the groups that spent months urging lawmakers to pass bills that could help them stave off staffing shortages or create new opportunities through local projects, the impasse and inaction stung.

"To say that we were shocked would be an understatement," Leading Age Minnesota President and CEO Kari Thurlow said of the Legislature's failure to approve new funding for long-term care providers.

And several launched new campaigns to encourage lawmakers to come back to St. Paul to finish what they'd started. Among them was a push from labor unions, local governments, transportation officials and others to approve infrastructure funding needed to tap into federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act dollars.

"This year was and still is a bonding year and it is unacceptable that lawmakers failed to do their job," Joel Smith, President and Business Manager of LIUNA Minnesota and North Dakota, said. "We call on our state leaders to come back together to negotiate and deliver a $1.4 billion bonding bill, transformational investment in water and transportation infrastructure, and matching dollars to maximize federal infrastructure funds."

MORE FROM DANA FERGUSON:
Several incumbent state legislators, particularly in the Senate, edged out competitors with more extreme views on COVID-19, election security and more.

Follow Dana Ferguson on Twitter  @bydanaferguson , call 651-290-0707 or email  dferguson@forumcomm.com.

Dana Ferguson is a Minnesota Capitol Correspondent for Forum News Service. Ferguson has covered state government and political stories since she joined the news service in 2018, reporting on the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the divided Statehouse and the 2020 election.
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