Hopeful talk hits brick wall of reality in Capitol discussions

May 07, 2019 06:40 PM

Hopeful talk about bipartisan cooperation at the Minnesota Legislature hit the brick wall of reality when Democratic Gov. Tim Walz and leaders for House Democrats and Senate Republicans broke off budget negotiations, leaving the two sides blaming each other Tuesday for the lack of agreement on spending and taxes.

The two sides were about $2 billion apart when talks resumed Monday, but the negotiations ended acrimoniously late in the night and they missed a self-imposed deadline for setting overall budget targets to guide negotiations before the May 20 adjournment deadline.


That left conference committees to plod along on major spending bills without knowing how much money they have to spend.

Democratic House Speaker Melissa Hortman told reporters Tuesday that the atmosphere "began to degrade around 10:30 p.m., which is why I thought it was time to stop talking for the evening."

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Hortman was upset when GOP Senate Leader Paul Gazelka sent out a statement Tuesday morning claiming "Governor Walz and Speaker Hortman have so far refused to drop even one cent of their massive four-year $12 billion tax increase agenda."

"Which is, I'm sorry, bull (expletive)," Hortman said at a Capitol news conference. "The governor moved 200 million dollars. We proposed to move $664 million dollars. They are not that bad at math."

Democrats said Walz offered to cut $200 million in spending from his original budget proposals, and House Democrats said they were willing to cut $664 million from their own and accept the governor's figure if Senate Republicans would meet them halfway and come up $332 million.

Senate Republicans wouldn't move on taxes, but did offer to shift money around within their budget proposal to spend more on education and less on health and human services.

"The Senate Republican budget means substantial, horrible cuts in health and human services," Hortman said. "It means massive layoffs in school districts all around the state. And so coming forward with zero change in their net position was just extremely disappointing."


Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka countered by blaming Walz and Hortman for refusing "to drop even one cent" of their proposed increases in gasoline and other taxes, which would add up to $12 billion over the next four years.

"We asked Gov. Walz and House Democrats to recognize that Health and Human Services is the fastest-growing and most expensive part of our budget, and to join us in an effort to bend the cost curve down in this area," he said. "Every dollar of permanent savings found could be allocated to Gov. Walz's top priority, E-12 Education."

Walz stuck Tuesday to his proposals for education, transportation and health care, which include a 20-cent increase in the state's gas tax to pay for roads and bridges. He also wants to preserve a 2% tax on health care providers to pay for health programs, which Republicans want to let expire as scheduled at year's end.

The governor appears to be acknowledging Republicans are unlikely to bend on tax increases.

"Yea, I don't see them giving anything either," he told reporters after budget talks broke off again Tuesday afternoon. "I think that's unfortunate because again the alternative to this is not winning, if there's a political win. It is crumbling roads, bridges and transportation system. I've laid out a very comprehensive plan. There's is the status quo."

No new budget talks are scheduled for Tuesday night.

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