Negotiations on a state budget are stalled as of this writing, so it’s time to start gaming out each side’s tactical advantages if the gavel comes down on May 20 without money to fund government for the next two years.
Let’s start with Republicans who control the state Senate.
If you don’t need anything out of a negotiation, you’re in a strong position.
Here’s what I mean: They already saw big wins in past legislative sessions and are content to guard those victories now.
In 2017, Republicans controlled both chambers of the Legislature and were desperate to use their fleeting power to get a tax cut. And they got one.
The state’s 2% tax on medical services is expiring at the end of the year under a deal cut in 2011. If Republicans refuse to end the sunset, that’s another tax cut.
Also in 2017, Republicans moved some sales tax money into roads, which is another one of their priorities. So even without a gas tax increase this year, there’ll be more money for concrete and asphalt.
Philosophically, Republicans and their base aren’t big fans of government, so they aren’t as motivated as Democrats to keep the trains running.
Add it all up, and Republicans can be content to say no to the gas tax and no to the health care tax — no, no, no, and no need to trade for anything.
There are risks to this approach, however.
Charlie Weaver, executive director of the Minnesota Business Partnership, has been around for decades. He noted the power of the governor after May 20, when the Legislature is required to recess for the year. “He’s got the podium. He’s got the platform to control the message more than the House and Senate.”
Gov. Tim Walz, who probably has decent approval ratings and is a solid communicator, will be able to dominate the narrative in the days and weeks after the Legislature goes home.
Then look for GOP senators in swing districts to begin getting anxious as state parks prepare for a shutdown and school districts warn of staff cuts because they don’t know how much money they’ll have.
Only the governor can call the Legislature into a special session once it recesses for the year, which gives him still more leverage.
The new DFL majority in the House believe they are in a good spot, too.
State Rep. Ryan Winkler, D-Golden Valley, cited previous government shutdowns both here and in Washington that never seem to redound to the GOP’s benefit. “I don’t know why they think saying no to everything is going to benefit them,” said Winkler, the House majority leader. “Unless they hope to do a repeat of 2011,” he said, referring to the lengthy government shutdown during the first year of then-Gov. Mark Dayton’s tenure. Republicans came away with a zero tax increase.
“Tim Walz is not Mark Dayton,” Winkler said.
Also, Republicans lost both chambers of the Legislature in the next year’s election.