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'Take plenty of Excedrin': A call to work together and more conflict at MN Capitol

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz delivers his first State of the State Wednesday night, April 3, speech since taking office early this year. Don Davis / Forum News Service

ST. PAUL -- Let's write our own story.

That was Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz's ask of lawmakers this week as he delivered his first State of the State address. Rather than caving to political ideologies or legislative precedents, the members of the nation's only divided state Legislature would have a chance to work together and prove they can compromise.

Legislative leaders on both sides of the political aisle said they were prepared to accept the challenge to pen their story with the governor. And they committed to getting a two-year budget written to avoid a special session, or worse, a government shutdown.

But their actions this week didn't foreshadow a happy ending on the horizon.

With five weeks left in the legislative session, a Senate panel voted down a proposed gasoline tax hike, a key tenet of Walz's budget proposal. And House Democrats said they'd add two gun control bills to a spending proposal, causing a standoff with a key Republican.

The moves by either side to appeal to their political bases pull them a little farther apart, and that should be a sign to Minnesotans that the next month will be a bumpy ride.

“Take plenty of Excedrin and start getting accustomed to frustration and headaches,” Larry Jacobs, director of the Hubert H. Humphrey School's Center for the Study of Politics and Governance, said.

Leaders of the DFL-led House of Representatives and the GOP-led Senate agree on the Legislature's top responsibilities this year: making health care more affordable, repairing roads and bridges and helping Minnesota schools.

But they sit on either side of a canyon in terms of their budget proposals to fund possible fixes. Walz and House Democrats' budget proposals came in more than $2 billion higher than Senate Republicans'.

“The issues are the issues that we all need to talk about,” Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said Wednesday. “The struggle will be that (Walz) wants $3 billion in tax increases to do that, and we think we can do that within the resources we have. That will be the great debate.”

So can it all get done without a special session or a need to shut down the state government?

Gazelka and DFL House leaders said, "Yes."

"I do think that there’s every expectation and every reason for an expectation that we will finish this budget on time, get done and do good things for the people of Minnesota," House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, said.

What will it take to reach that finish line?

A reality check, Jacobs said. Senate Republicans and House Democrats could either continue to push the bills or budget lines that suit their base, even if they know they won't succeed on the other side of the Capitol, or they could focus on solutions in the middle.

And that will require both sides, as well as the governor, moderating their expectations.

“If you go into it with realism and accept that you’re not going to get even half a loaf, but maybe two slices of a loaf, that’s a better approach,” Jacobs said.

So what will the only divided Legislature's story say? Lawmakers will have to decide.