Minnesota lawmakers completed work early Saturday on a $48.3 billion state budget that sets the next two years of spending on everything from farms to schools to prison staff.

Legislators slogged through the night to meet the 7 a.m. Saturday deadline to adjourn a special session called by Gov. Tim Walz. That goal, set by Walz, Senate Republican Leader Paul Gazelka and DFL House Speaker Melissa Hortman, was cast in doubt when legislators gathered Friday in St. Paul, as hours passed with only intermittent action on the House and Senate floors.

But a deal reached between legislative leaders early Saturday morning set lawmakers back on the path to finish their work by the self-imposed deadline. The final votes cast, both chambers adjourned just before 7 a.m.

The tight timeline hinged on the support of minority parties in the House and Senate. House Republican leaders  said more time was needed to properly assess some of the budget measures — particularly the 649-page health and human services bill, which was not published until Friday afternoon.

Each vote opened new avenues for political gamesmanship, the order of the day in a frantic 21-hour vote-a-thon to put the finishing touches on the sweeping $48.3 billion spending agreement.

Bills typically require a first, second and third reading on separate days.
Lawmakers can vote to suspend the rules and clear the bills in a day.
But they need a supermajority to do so, which meant getting some House Republicans and Senate Democrats on board.

House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, began Friday balking at the idea his caucus would vote to suspend the rules, saying one-day special session would leave too little time for legislators to fully review the bills.

But as the day went on, his caucus agreed to take votes on some of the less contentious measures. Shortly after midnight, a deal was reached to suspend the rules and try to vote on the remaining bills before 7 a.m.

Daudt and Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, had little involvement in the negotiations on the state budget.But the supermajority requirements grant them some leverage to make their desires heard.

“As in any special session, this is where the minority leaders have a little bit more influence, and we’re trying to work through that,” Gazelka said Friday morning. “But it’s my hope that we finish everything by 7 a.m. Saturday.”

A supermajority was also required for the Legislature to pass a $500 million public works infrastructure borrowing bill, which was part of the deal reached between Walz, Gazelka and Hortman. Support for that agreement failed to materialize in the early morning hours, and legislators opted to put off a vote until next year.

The budget deal was negotiated over a couple of weeks of closed-door meetings.
The three leaders landed on a plan that eliminated Walz’s goal of a gas tax increase but continued a tax on medical providers that Democrats supported, although it was reduced from 2% to 1.8%.

The two sides also decided to cut the income tax rate for some middle-class Minnesotans and increase school spending by $1.25 billion during the next two years.

After reaching a broad agreement on those big-ticket items Sunday, the leaders have been working with state agency staff and key legislators to sort through the policy details of the budget.

By midafternoon Friday, legislators had made progress on less controversial bills. Both the House and Senate suspended the rules and passed an agriculture, housing and rural development bill, as well as Legacy Amendment funding.

But the health and human services measure — the longest and most contentious spending bill — was not publicly available until 4:30 p.m., around the time House and Senate committees were scheduled to start holding informal public hearings on the bill. It passed the House 12 hours later, just before 4:30 a.m.

“There will be mistakes,” Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, said of the bill language at the Senate committee public hearing. “There will be things that you are like, ‘How did that happen?’ But we really did our very best. There was some tension and then [we] worked through some things.”

Proposed amendments also dragged out the process. Early Friday, the Senate tabled an environment bill after Sen. Charles Wiger, DFL-Maplewood, refused to withdraw an amendment to ban the carcinogenic solvent trichloroethylene.
Senators returned to the bill and passed it in midafternoon.

Lawmakers in both chambers also spent the early morning hours debating amendments to the health and human services bill adding an emergency insulin program, which had bipartisan support in the regular session that ended Monday. But in the end, the insulin measures failed to pass.

“I’m hoping that we might be able to do it next year,” Hortman said.

Walz, also a Democrat, is expected to sign the bills in the coming days.

 

Staff writers Stephen Montemayor and J. Patrick Coolican contributed to this report.