Minnesota legislators spent hours giving fond farewell speeches Monday as billions of dollars in tax and spending proposals remained in limbo — and the campaign trail blame game that will dominate the next five months was underway.
"I'm hearing pretty clearly from Minnesotans, 'Give us the money back from this and invest in the things that make our lives a little easier,'" said DFL Gov. Tim Walz, who has sole power to call legislators back into a special session to finish the tax, education, public safety and other bills that state leaders failed to wrap up during their regular session. "It shouldn't be that hard and we can get win-win-wins across the board."
But he ended a meeting with top legislative leaders Monday with no timeline or clarity on next steps. Walz said he's ready to call legislators back, but Senate Republicans asked for a few days to "decompress" after a marathon of legislative work over the past week.
Lawmakers' official work slammed to a halt at 11:59 p.m. Sunday, the deadline to pass bills this session. Formally, they could do little at the Capitol on Monday apart from retirement speeches. Some wandered around the building waiting to hear whether they should keep working or go home, while interest groups aired their frustrations that lawmakers left so much work undone.
"The collapse is imminent," said Sen. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, who proposed spending $1 billion to boost pay for long-term care and group home workers, personal care assistants and others in the midst of a health care staffing crisis. "People are going to come to harm, and everybody knows it."
As key dealmakers met privately to determine next steps, Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Jensen gathered his supporters for a rally outside the Capitol. He was joined and endorsed by Kendall Qualls, one of the candidates Jensen recently bested in the fight for the Minnesota Republican Party's backing.
"I'm going to ask you to remember Forrest Gump, one of my heroes. His mother taught him, 'Stupid is as stupid does.' I don't know if our present governor got that message," said Jensen, a former state senator. "We've got a lot more problems coming down the pike because we've got someone who thinks they're a king and you're his subjects. And that's got to stop."
Jensen's tone Monday stood in sharp contrast to comments on the House and Senate floors, where dozens of retiring legislators said goodbye to their colleagues. They told stories of deals struck and of working across the aisle. There were endless thank-yous, bipartisan inside jokes and Democrats hugging Republicans.
"I'm glad I'm not running for governor so I can tell you the truth of how much I love you guys," said Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, who dropped out of the governor's race after losing his party's endorsement to Jensen on May 14. "This biggest surprise was the key relationships I had with Democrats. If this place loses that, we don't function."
Along with the governor's office, all 201 legislative seats are up for election this fall. There is a massive wave of departures by lawmakers, including many who have represented parts of the state for more than 20 or 30 years.
Some of the legislators leaving office when their terms end in January are still in the thick of trying to see the work of the past four months through to completion. Negotiations on the health and human services bill are continuing, Rep. Jen Schultz, DFL-Duluth, said during her departure speech. She said she can give a more complete speech when they are in a special session and "I'm actually done with our work."
State leaders had hoped to reach spending deals over the weekend on health and human services, education and public safety bills, as well as an infrastructure bonding package. But key legislators remained divided on various pieces of the bills as the session closed.
One area of agreement was a $4 billion tax bill. But Democrats opposed passing a tax measure without any spending bills, so that package failed as well.
House Tax Committee Chairman Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, who is wrapping up a 22-year run at the Capitol, nonetheless remained lighthearted on the topic during his farewell address to colleagues.
"I have to say my proudest legislative accomplishment was successfully passing the largest tax cut in the history — oh, nope, I'm sorry I forgot to take that out," he said to bursts of laughter as he pretended to cross the line out of his speech.
Staff writer Emma Nelson contributed to this report.