The protracted wrangling over the next Minnesota state budget has extended beyond the legislative session and now threatens to require furloughing almost 38,000 state employees.
A partial state government shutdown will happen if an agreement isn’t reached by July 1. It’s a big mess, made worse by the fact that almost all of the budget negotiations are taking place in secret.
This is not a portrait of good governance. Stubborn differences are inherent in a divided government, with power split between Gov. Tim Walz, a Democrat, a Senate run by Republicans and a House run by Democrats.
But that’s no reason for the talks that are crucial to shaping state government services through the budget process to be conducted in private, as most of the negotiations have been since the session ended.
At stake is the $52 billion state budget. Legislative leaders have agreed to the budget’s overall framework, issuing categorical totals for a dozen working groups to handle the details. These working groups must agree to specifics on how much money to spend on schools, public safety, roads and bridges as well as health programs.
The sticking points blocking an agreement include agreements over policing laws, changing state rules to limit vehicle emissions and ending the governor’s executive powers to respond to the COVID-19 emergency.
One example of the divisions standing in the way of a deal: Senate Republicans want to delay by two years the implementation of “Clean Car” rules — and are threatening to block passage of the environmental budget to achieve that aim.
But many of these details are being hashed out in the dark.
Soon after the session ended in late May, working groups began meeting — but only one of the meetings was broadcast. A couple of recent budget meetings were live streamed to the public, including one concerning how the state can spend relief funds for health and human services under the American Rescue Plan Act.
Otherwise, most of these budget negotiations have taken place via online Zoom meetings, effectively shutting out the public on whose behalf the thorny negotiations are being conducted.
This isn’t how Minnesota’s state government should be run. Minnesota prides itself on its tradition of open, transparent government.
Minnesota citizens are engaged in their government, when given the opportunity. The state consistently leads the nation in voter turnout, for instance.
In spite of the deep disagreements, legislative leaders have expressed optimism that they will be able to reach a deal by June 30, which would avert a shutdown starting on July 1. But the talks drag on — in secret.
Officials should open these ongoing budget talks to ensure transparency in critical decision-making. Failure to do so will result in a loss of public confidence — something officials should be at pains to avoid.
This other view is the opinion of the editorial board of our sister publication, the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead.