State lawmakers missed a second deadline for completing the state’s next two-year, $46 billion budget on Wednesday, but they continued to trudge through a series of budget debates marked by partisan squabbling and demonstrations outside their chambers.
Lawmakers had a goal of finishing their work for the year by 7 a.m. Despite an all-night scramble, that deadline came and went without action on bills funding major portions of state government. Inside the House and Senate, the day dawned with lawmakers from both parties — some wrapped in blankets after sitting at their desks all night — sparring over who was responsible for the lack of progress.
In the balance is a broad budget deal DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican legislative leaders worked out late Monday night, including an agreement that they would finish by 7 a.m. Wednesday. Progressive groups rallied in opposition to many aspects of the deal, publicly pressuring Dayton to scrap his agreements with Republicans.
“None of us got everything we wanted. But that’s how it works,” said Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa. Even as he worked to hold the deal together, Gazelka in a floor speech pronounced himself “deeply disappointed” with what he said were efforts by DFLers to slow things down.
Some lawmakers suggested finishing quickly was too much work too fast for weary lawmakers and Capitol employees who process budget bills that run into the hundreds of pages.
“I think it would do all of us well to take a deep breath and stop trying to blame each other for why we’re here,” said Rep. Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul. “I think we all have a hand in it, and part of it was an overly ambitious one-day session.”
By late afternoon, the House had approved three of seven budget bills: an assortment of tax cuts totaling $650 million, a transportation funding plan with about $300 million in new money for road and bridge projects, and a public school budget bill that increases per-student payments to districts by 2 percent in each of the next two years with a total of $1.4 billion in new money for schools.
The Senate passed the tax cuts, but no other spending measures. The Senate also passed a bill, which Dayton pledged to veto, that would prevent cities from enacting their own minimum wage, sick pay and other labor standards.
The final version of the health and human services budget bill, which comprises 28 percent of the total general fund budget, had not yet been released by Wednesday night. The House and Senate adjourned for the day about 7 p.m. with plans to return Thursday at noon. It was no longer clear if there was a deadline for finishing.
Though all the budget bills moving through the Legislature represented agreements between the GOP and Dayton, some DFL lawmakers and progressive groups demonstrating at the Capitol pushed back against provisions they said were unfair. Among their concerns: wording in the education budget bill that potentially undercuts seniority protections for teachers, a measure related to driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants in the public safety bill, and tax cuts they said could threaten the state’s financial stability.
A few hundred demonstrators, including members of labor unions, faith groups and immigration advocates, marched to the governor’s office, calling on Dayton to veto all of the budget bills that reach his desk. Dayton has not appeared in public since late Monday when he and GOP leaders announced their deal.
Two DFL lawmakers from Minneapolis, Reps. Ray Dehn and Karen Clark, embarked on a hunger strike in solidarity with protesters concerned that the public safety bill passed Monday by the Legislature would limit the possibility for undocumented immigrants to get driver’s licenses.
The Legislature must pass a budget — and get it signed by the governor — by June 30 to avoid a government shutdown.
Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, appeared calm and relaxed after a major vote on the transportation bill. “Everyone’s happy,” he quipped before calling the session’s presumptive ending odd. “I was very excited when we had a so-called agreement,” Davids said. “But how’s that working out for us?”
Still, Davids, a 25-year veteran of the House, wasn’t worried about the direction things were headed. “It’ll work; we’ll get it figured out,” he said.
In the meantime, Davids held up his personal cellphone to illustrate that he was getting work done while waiting it out.
Star Tribune staff writer Rochelle Olson contributed to this report.