Despite huge surplus, paid family leave no sure thing

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In 2023, Minnesota Democrats will control the Minnesota House, Senate and governor’s office, and start the next legislative session with a $17.6 billion budget surplus. It would seem the DFL’s long-sought goal of a paid family leave program is finally on the glide path to passage.

“The golden opportunity that we have to make Minnesota an even better, fairer and more inclusive and prosperous state,” Gov. Tim Walz said this week about all the opportunities the state has with the historic budget surplus.

One of those opportunities could be the passage of paid family leave. However, political analysts say it’s no sure thing, or at least won’t be easy.

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“I think it’s going to be very difficult,” Republican political analyst Brian McDaniel said. “The votes are probably there for some form of paid family leave. I just hope that the two caucuses in the majority are also working with the business community and regular Minnesotans to make sure what they’re doing isn’t making it harder to keep people employed and to keep businesses afloat.”

The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce says 80% of its member companies already provide paid family leave. They say a mandatory plan could result in taxes on workers and businesses to pay for it. But Democrats say the fact that so many companies already offer paid family leave is one reason to expand it to many small businesses that don’t.

“I think they should go and talk to the chambers and the Minnesota Business Partnership because most of the big companies already do it,” former DFL state Sen. Jeff Hayden, of Minneapolis, said. “So the small companies are the ones they have to talk about. (Big companies) saw this as something that adds value to their businesses and it’s a way to grow. The bigger issue is how do you pay for it.”

There have been various proposals for how to pay for it, including payroll taxes on employers and employees. It would make workers eligible for up to 12 weeks of medical leave or family leave to care for newborns or sick family members.

The Minnesota House passed a paid family leave plan last spring but it didn’t get traction in the Republican-controlled Senate.