ST. PAUL — Top Minnesota officials on Thursday, June 3, said they're not willing to shut down state government over some of their policy priorities, for the first time indicating that they'd be willing to cast aside proposals that had fueled disagreement at the Capitol.
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, and Gov. Tim Walz told reporters that they wouldn't hold hostage the state budget over top DFL or GOP priorities. The comments came as closed-door negotiations over several areas of the spending plan continued and as pressure mounted at the Capitol to strike a deal.
For more than two weeks, legislative working groups attempted to hammer out the specifics of how the state should spend $52 billion for schools, law enforcement, roads and health care programs, among other things. And while legislative leaders said they remained hopeful about the prospects of wrapping up a budget this month, strong disagreements remained on proposed policing law changes, the governor's emergency powers and a rule change set to limit vehicle emissions in the state.
But Gazelka and Walz for the first time on Thursday said they would be willing to set aside some priorities to avoid a state government shutdown. If lawmakers can't agree to a budget by June 30, a full or partial shutdown would be imminent.
“The Senate has no issues that we would demand a shutdown to get,” Gazelka said following a news conference on education savings accounts that would allow families to use state education funds to help pay for private or parochial school tuition. "We think that would be harmful to the state."
Gazelka's comment breaks with members of his caucus who'd threatened to hold up the state's environmental budget if the Walz administration refused to delay implementation of its "Clean Cars" emissions standards. He said Republicans would keep pushing for that change, as well as the end of the state's peacetime emergency for COVID-19 and school choice legislation, but acknowledged that at some point the proposals would likely fall away in negotiations.
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The governor on Thursday said he felt confident that lawmakers could pass and he could approve a budget before the deadline. Walz noted that lawmakers worked behind the scenes "buttoning up" a deal.
“I don’t believe in shutting down the government, I think you have to compromise,” Walz said. “The constituents, I think they should be deeply concerned that anyone would consider (a shutdown).”
Walz said talks around police transparency and accountability measures were ongoing and members of a working group had started trading offers.
House Democrats, led by the People of Color and Indigenous Caucus, have said that in the wake of the police killings of George Floyd and Daunte Wright, Minnesota should put in place civilian oversight boards to work with police, require transparency around officer misconduct and end traffic stops for minor infractions. And earlier this year, they said they'd block a budget deal until that package passed through the Legislature.
House Speaker Melissa Hortman, D-Brooklyn Park, told Forum News Service that it was "premature" to start planning for a possible shutdown or budget stalemate. And she said she'd had conversations with Senate Republican leaders that inspired hope that lawmakers would be able to find common ground on the legislation.
“We’re in the same boat. We have some things that we feel incredibly strongly about that we are willing to set by the wayside in order to get a budget deal,” Hortman said pointing to paid family leave and abortion rights legislation. “We have put down anything that’s really ideological and now we’re focused on fundamental human rights in the state where George Floyd was murdered.”
Also on Thursday, the first budget outlines became public, suggesting that lawmakers had wrapped up negotiations in those working groups and would be ready to take up the plans later this month. Hortman said four working groups had finished budget spreadsheets and were writing their bills ahead of public hearings this month.
She asked the other 10 group leaders to set a deadline to finish their spreadsheets and bills in the next two weeks. Lawmakers are set to return to St. Paul on June 14 to weigh an extension of the state's peacetime emergency for COVID-19 and 14 budget bills.
"They need to get a move on," Hortman said.