(The Center Square) – Nearly a week after Minnesota lawmakers blew past a Friday budget target, they appear no closer to reaching a budget as the end of regular session looms only four days away.
Here are some main areas of contention.
Republicans have $2.8 billion of problems if they adjourn, giving Gov. Tim Walz the ability to spends billions of federal stimulus money on his own priorities.
Gazelka has said he plans to pass a “lights-on” budget if Walz doesn’t let the Legislature decide how to spend the $2.8 billion.
Senate Republicans are criticizing Walz’s administration for allegedly spending hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars on items they contend shouldn’t be appropriated from the incoming $2.8 billion federal money without legislative input.
GOP allege Walz spent:
$12,500 to a prominent Black radio station to broadcast the Walz’s news conferences
$11,300 on 113 ads for “words of encouragement”
$50,000to the American Indian Cancer Foundation to support COVID-19 resources to American Indian and Alaska natives in Minnesota by forming “virtual talking circles.”
In a Tuesday press conference, Walz responded: “We wouldn’t have to spend as much of that if there wasn’t so much misinformation out there,” Walz told reporters at in St. Paul. “I wish [Republicans] wouldn’t stand on the sidelines and throw shots rather than helping us fix stuff.”
State health officials said the spending was vital in reaching communities of color and Indigenous communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.
Republicans argue Walz will continue what they see as taxpayer handouts to Democrat-connected companies.
Lawmakers are deadlocked on police reform, California car emission standards, marijuana legalization, taxing and spending amounts, and emergency powers. Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, called those topics “major roadblocks.”
The House DFL made police reform a priority, while the Senate GOP appears to want none.
Walz and House Democrats have proposed tax increases on wealthy Minnesotans and corporations to fund education, child care, and other programs. On Monday, Walz said he wouldn’t take the tax hikes off the table, although he has backed off from an initial $1.6 billion tax hike.
The GOP-dominated Senate says it will refuse any tax hikes, citing the $2.8 billion of incoming federal money and a $1.6 billion budget surplus as reasons not to hike taxes.
The Senate wants Minnesota to fully exempt Paycheck Protection Program loans from state taxes given to struggling businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, while the DFL has offered to exempt the first $350,000 of loans.
Lawmakers will likely return for a special session on June 14 because of Walz’s COVID-19 emergency powers and could pass a budget then. If the Legislature doesn’t pass a budget by June 30, state government shuts down.