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Minnesota lawmakers face another budget deadline Friday

By Tim Pugmire, Minnesota Public Radio News

Will they or won’t they? Minnesota lawmakers face another deadline to resolve their remaining budget disagreements ahead of next month’s special session.

DFL Gov. Tim Walz and top legislative leaders agreed last week on broad spending targets, but they left it up to small groups of lawmakers to fill in the details for each budget area, and that work is supposed to be completed by the end of the day Friday.

There have been no visible signs of House and Senate negotiators scrambling this week to complete budget details. That work in spreadsheets has been going on in private and is supposed to continue throughout the day.

“Well, we’ll see. There’s still some time for them to exchange additional offers,” said House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park. “I know a lot of offers are going back and forth.”

Hortman is generally optimistic about the conference committees, now called working groups, finishing the budget bills on time. Some have already finished, she said. Hortman said she is prepared to step in where needed to help resolve any hang ups, and she also believes several policy compromises are within reach ahead of the special session.

“This is the season of heartbreak. This is the season where policy provisions that Republicans and Democrats have been working on, some of them will not make the final cut,” Hortman said. “Some of them, they will not be able to find common ground. And it’s very difficult to let go of work that people have been engaged in for five months hoping for a successful resolution and to find that there is essentially a brick wall from one party or the other.”

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, also has faith that most of the working groups will finish by the deadline. He has seen a lot of progress, he said, adding that he is also willing to give the groups more time, if they need it.

“If they are genuinely working, which we think all of them are, then we’re just going to encourage them to keep working,” Gazelka said.

As with details on the budget, if negotiators can’t reach a deal on policy it will be up to legislative leaders to do it or drop the policy issues altogether. Whatever happens, they’ll have to get majorities in the House and Senate to vote for the plans.

Walz is expected to call lawmakers into special session by June 14. They must pass a new two-year budget by July 1 to avoid a government shutdown.

The deadline to resolve policy issues is June 4. One of the big questions is whether negotiators can find any common ground on the police accountability measures pushed by the DFL House majority and resisted by the Republican-led Senate.

Gazelka put out a video this week, on the anniversary of the murder of George Floyd, saying the focus should instead be on reducing violence in Minneapolis with an increase in the number of police officers.

“It’s not reforming police right now. That should not be the message,” Gazelka said in the video. “It’s get the police out on the street.”

Gazelka said he’s not interested in any changes that hinder police in doing their jobs, but is not ruling out the possibility of passing some accountability measures during the special session.

“There may be things in there that we will agree to. In fact, I think there will be some,” Gazelka said. “But we’ll just have to let the process work. But my No. 1 priority right now is pushing to get more police in Minneapolis.”

Walz said he believes police accountability measures are still in play. The governor said he’s been told by legislators that the conversations on police issues continue, and there is movement on both sides.

“Democrats and Republicans, House and Senate, do understand that we need to have reforms in policing,” Walz said. “And it’s not as simple as you’re for the police, you’re against the police. It’s more that these are operational things that can make it better.”