Minnesota Senate Republicans vowed to fight additional taxes and hold down government spending as top priorities as state lawmakers begin negotiations over the next two-year budget.
Senators laid out their budget principles Wednesday and will be pushing for those goals as they help develop an approximately $47 billion budget over the next few months. Some of their values conflict with the aims of the Democratic-dominated House and Democratic Gov. Tim Walz. Senate Republicans said they want negotiations to be transparent, and they want to meet deadlines.
“These are the pillars we are laying out, so that when the governor lays out his budget we’ll compare that,” Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said.
Walz is scheduled to release his budget plan Tuesday, providing a starting point for the looming financial debates. The state will release an economic forecast the following week showing how much money lawmakers have to work with, and legislators will likely come out with their own budget proposals after that.
Gazelka, R-Nisswa, presented four primary objectives, starting with “taking care of people,” including seniors, veterans, people with disabilities and kids in child care.
He said the state’s general fund expenditures have grown unsustainably, and he warned Wednesday against additional increases. Inflation and population growth have contributed to increased spending, Gazelka said, but spending is outpacing those factors. He suggested the state re-examine some “very large” automatic spending increases in health and human services and look for waste and fraud.
With a state budget surplus and strong reserves, Gazelka said now is not a time to be seeking more money from taxpayers. For Senate Republicans, that means not continuing the tax on health care providers that is set to sunset at the end of 2019. They also doubled down on their opposition to increasing the gas tax, which has been a key piece of Walz’s plan for new transportation spending.
Meanwhile Wednesday, Walz walked through a number of things he wants to include in his budget, including the gas tax increase and continuation of the provider tax.
At an event at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs, he said his budget will have a few major focuses: education, health care and “community prosperity.” He wants to expand access to the MinnesotaCare health care program, and he said he wants to help communities prosper by spending more money assisting local governments and reimbursing counties for providing services.
House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, D-Golden Valley, said House Democrats’ priorities align with Walz’s. He said he was not surprised by any of Senate Republicans’ principles, which he called “perfectly reasonable principles from a Republican standpoint.”
“The real test is going to be whether Republicans are willing to step forward and really negotiate … or whether they just retreat into these vague generalities,” Winkler said.
State leaders are trying to work through budget differences earlier this year and avoid a special session. Walz, Gazelka and House Speaker Melissa Hortman, D-Brooklyn Park, laid out a series of objectives on Monday to get budget bills through the process ahead of the end of the legislative session on May 20.