Partisan issues, budget surplus at forefront of new legislative session

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State lawmakers will reconvene in just a few days for the start of a new legislative session, and they’re already divided on a few issues.

On Thursday, House Democrats unveiled their priorities for the 2020 session, with education, health care, gun legislation and paid family and medical leave topping their list. But there are already sharp differences on how to pay for any new initiatives.

House Speaker Melissa Hortma, DFL-Fridley, is among many lawmakers with their eyes on a more than $1 billion budget surplus. She said the House DFL majority will focus on using some of it on early childhood education.

"We think the most important thing is to get kids off to the right start, and in order to close the opportunity gap we have to look at the littlest learners," Hortman said.

Hortman said they’ll look at using up to $500 million from the surplus, and Gov. Tim Walz said he’ll have his own education proposals.

"We’ll be putting out proposals that I think can find a lot of bipartisan support to do what we all know we need to do … give every child that opportunity and to provide a workforce that this state needs," Walz said.

On the other side, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said education reform can be more cost-effective.

"There are plenty of other states where Republicans and Democrats are willing to do reforms bipartisanly so that’s what I’m hoping we look at in Minnesota," Gazelka said.

One other dynamic to watch next session is new Senate Minority Leader Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury, who replaces longtime leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook.

This week, Kent tried to calm fears among people in greater Minnesota that Democrats are becoming the urban and suburban party.

"What we want to make sure is that every voice has a place at the table, that everyone is heard, that all these issues get fair discussions and hearings, and then it’s about really focusing on the basic priorities we hear from Minnesotans," Kent said.

No major decisions will be made until after one more revenue forecast comes out in a few weeks. The new session begins Tuesday.