Minnesota lawmakers prepare to 'push it to the finish line,' move several budget bills
With a little more than a week left before a crucial deadline, lawmakers advanced several omnibus budget bills through the Capitol.
ST. PAUL — Minnesota lawmakers on Tuesday, June 22, continued hammering away at a state budget as the clock continued to wind down on a special legislative session.
The Minnesota Senate approved a pair of agriculture and commerce and energy spending bills, sending the measures to the governor's desk for approval. Meanwhile, proposals to fund economic development and job creation programs, transportation funding, environment and natural resources advanced at the Capitol.
And details about a compromise spending plan for E-12 education also started to come to light on Tuesday, marking the first time that additional information about the state's largest budget item came to the fore. But bills outlining agreements for health and human services, public safety and state government remained in closed-door negotiations.
Lawmakers have to finish a $52 billion budget agreement by June 30 or they could force a partial government shutdown. State agencies this week began preparing for that reality but legislative leaders said they'd work around the clock to avoid spurring layoffs, the suspension of services or closure of state offices. Ten of 13 budget bills had been finished and were set to work through the Legislature if they hadn't yet.
"You can see we're making progress now as the bills are moving forward, how we flow in the Senate I think is really really good but we just got to now push it to the finish line," Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said.
Here's a look at what was in the works at the Capitol and what's left to finish in the next week.
Jobs bill would send $150 million to businesses
Businesses around the state could stand to benefit from the jobs bill, which cleared the Senate on Tuesday. The legislation allotted $150 million to help repair damage in the Twin Cities caused by riots in the wake of George Floyd's murder and COVID-19 relief grants to boost businesses around the state. But hospitality business owners have said the plan wouldn't provide enough aid after a year that forced many to close their doors.
"This bill has always been focused on helping this recovery bounce back from the recession and getting Minnesotans back to work," Sen. Eric Pratt, R-Prior Lake, said. "We're all here to help Minnesota families, we want this to be a great state and this is a great start at that."
Republicans on Monday night removed a provision from the bill that would mandate that oil refineries hire only trained and skilled workers and a DFL-led attempt to again add the amendment failed Tuesday.
The Senate Chair of the E-12 Education Committee on Tuesday announced that lawmakers had wrapped up a plan to fund Minnesota schools that would include a 2.45% funding increase over current levels in the first year and a 2% increase over that amount in the second year. The boosts represent the largest amount of state spending for education in 15 years and will come out to roughly a $1 billion increase in the next four years.
"It is truly a compromise, a consensus, but it really hit what we needed to hit for a change: no mandates, almost no mandates, and a big formula increase which means they're not spending money now on mandates with the formula increase they got," Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, said.
The proposal also includes new funding to help improve literacy rates in the state and increase the recruitment of teachers of color and Indigenous educators. Chamberlain said Republicans dropped a proposal to allow parents to send their children to private school and have part of their state per-pupil allocation follow them to pay tuition. Schools will also have the option to delay curriculum changes by two years.
Senate Minority Leader Susan Kent, D-Woodbury, said the plan marked a "massive improvement" from what Senate Republicans proposed earlier in the year, noting the push to improve equity in schools. And Rep. Jim Davnie, D-Minneapolis, said the funding could help Minnesota schools to address racial disparities in educational opportunities.
"We know there is much more work to do in this area and Democrats remain committed to ensuring every child has access to a world class education," Davnie, who chairs the House E-12 finance committee, said in a statement.
Agriculture joins higher ed, Legacy on governor's desk
The Minnesota Senate on Tuesday passed the state's agriculture spending bill, sending it to the governor's desk for his signature. Later Tuesday night, the Senate also approved a commerce and energy plan. The proposals are the third and fourth of 13 pieces of the budget puzzle to pass through both chambers. Higher education and Legacy outdoor heritage program funding bills have also been sent to the governor for his approval.
Transportation bill teed up for votes
The Senate debated and a House committee approved a proposed transportation spending bill that would not raise taxes on gas or vehicle sales and would increase general fund spending on transportation by $200 million over the next two years. Democrats had previously urged a gas tax hike to help pay for needed road and bridge repairs around the state but met opposition from Republicans who opposed any tax increases.
“A lot of the House provisions are in this and I’m very pleased that this is a balanced bill between roads, bridges, transit, lots of good policy in here, it does move us forward,” Rep. Frank Hornstein, D-Minneapolis, said. The House is set to vote on the bill on Wednesday and the Senate will take it up for a vote after it passes there.
Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee said the bill prioritized roads and bridges, as GOP lawmakers had called for and it avoided asking Minnesotans for more money.
"The state has plenty of money; there’s no need to ask Minnesotans to pay more," Newman said.
Environment budget deal would keep parks open
The Minnesota House Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday passed the Environment and Natural Resources bill to the House floor and a Senate Finance Committee was expected to take a similar step later in the day. The push to get the bill to the floor comes after Democrats and Republicans split on policy provisions in the bill and the Senate committee chair threatened to hold up the budget over an impending change in state vehicle emissions rules.
Senate Republicans in their afternoon hearing celebrated that Minnesotans' parks, hunting and fishing fees would not be increased in the bipartisan omnibus agreement, despite some earlier proposals to do so.