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Still no deal: Minnesota leaders continue secret budget talks as deadline looms

Without budget targets, committee work ground to a halt and lawmakers braced themselves for legislative overtime.

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Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, along with other leaders on Monday, March 16, briefed members of the Minnesota Capitol Press Corps about protocols to restrict access to the Legislature in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. Dana Ferguson / Forum News Service
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ST. PAUL — Secret budget negotiations pressed on over the weekend and the Legislature ground to a halt a day before lawmakers were supposed to finish their business and head home.

After more than a week of exchanging offers in private, Gov. Tim Walz, House Speaker Melissa Hortman, D-Brooklyn Park, and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, continued efforts to broker a deal for budget targets before the legislative session's final day Monday, May 17.

The leaders had hoped to reach an agreement a week and a half earlier to help frame for committees what they could spend on different areas of state government. But additional guidance around the $2.8 billion coming to Minnesota from the American Rescue Plan Act shifted their discussions early last week, they said.

Walz and Hortman, the two Democrats in the closed talks, said they'd continue pushing for additional funds for schools and mental health resources coming out of the pandemic and for a package of police accountability bills. Meanwhile, Gazelka, the sole Republican, said he would continue pressing for tax relief and an end to the state's peacetime emergency for COVID-19.

The two sides entered budget talks $1 billion apart and with several different policy priorities. And late last week, the leaders said they still had a ways to go in bridging the divide.

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"We're miles apart on money and we have a lot of really big policy issues," Hortman told reporters on Thursday afternoon. Hortman also noted that the governor's decision to end the state's mask mandate likely wouldn't help resolve other disagreements.

MORE FROM THE CAPITOL: Minnesota House casts vote to legalize recreational marijuana for adult use Senate leaders on Thursday said the measure would go 'up in smoke' in that chamber.

Minnesota's mask mandate is officially over but officials say the pandemic isn't The Minnesota Executive Council on Friday voted to lift the state's mask mandate for indoor spaces after the CDC said vaccinated Americans would likely be safe to stop wearing masks in most settings.

Special session on the horizon, adult-use marijuana clears hurdle at Minnesota Capitol As the clock ticked down on the legislative session, leaders suggested they'd need to work in overtime to get a state budget and other priorities finished.

Going into the weekend, the trio acknowledged that lawmakers would need to go into overtime to finish writing a nearly $52 billion state budget and to wrap up priorities like a policing law reform package. Without the targets, committees were stuck and lawmakers noted that they were in a holding pattern.

“Quite honestly, due to matters outside of our control, we could not pass this bill today," Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, said Saturday during a conference committee hearing on public safety. “It looks like we have to play in extra innings to get finished."

Lawmakers will likely be called back to St. Paul next month if Walz again requests a 30-day extension of the state's peacetime emergency for COVID-19. At that time, they could pass budget bills, policing law changes and other priorities.

Or if a deal came together Monday, lawmakers could request that the governor call a special session right away.

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"We know we’re going into overtime," Gazelka told reporters at the Capitol on Friday, May 14. "I f we get this done, frankly we could immediately call a special session so that the committees could meet formally."

Legislators have to pass a budget by June 30 or face a state government shutdown.

Follow Dana Ferguson on Twitter @bydanaferguson , call 651-290-0707 or email dferguson@forumcomm.com

Dana Ferguson is a Minnesota Capitol Correspondent for Forum News Service. Ferguson has covered state government and political stories since she joined the news service in 2018, reporting on the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the divided Statehouse and the 2020 election.
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