Minnesota's legislative session may be over, but the work goes on. It must, because lawmakers failed to reach agreement on their fundamental reason for meeting this year: a capital investment bill needed not only to make repairs and improvements across the state, but to provide a fiscal boost amid a deepening recession.
That's not all that was left undone. Gov. Tim Walz's emergency powers expire on June 12. To extend them, legislators must be called into special session. Critics seeking to make political points have attempted to stoke fears of "one-man rule."
Minnesotans should take comfort in the knowledge this state has serious legal safeguards against such a possibility. A simple majority vote controls Walz's emergency powers. Legislators could have ended that authority in April. They could still do so in June, should Walz decide to seek an extension. But ending the state of emergency also would end executive orders tied to that status, such as those protecting renters from eviction during the pandemic. Lawmakers should consider seriously whether that is the best course.
There is another, even more pressing matter: Legislators left St. Paul without creating a plan to allocate $1.8 billion in emergency funds sent by Washington to help Minnesota fight COVID-19. About a third of that money is destined for local jurisdictions, who need it badly. That allocation cannot be delayed, so that task too now falls to the executive branch.
Legislators need to be involved in these decisions. Our check-and-balance system produces its best outcomes when there is a vibrant mix of ideas — and that includes vigorous challenges that pressure-test those ideas. Walking away with the work undone, then finding fault with those who had to do it, is a poor substitute.
Management and Budget Commissioner Myron Frans told an editorial writer that he still hopes to engage legislators in the process. "We don't want all of the authority," Frans said. "We want to share the responsibility." He said the administration will begin holding weekly briefings for legislators to engage them in COVID-19 plans, including fund allocation.
We know legislators had to cope with extraordinary difficulties during this session. Nerves are frayed, and the temptation to call this session done are strong. Tensions were exacerbated when Senate Republicans learned recently that Walz was proceeding with a union contract negotiated last year that included two modest pay raises for state workers. The Senate GOP had voted to ratify the contract, but also to modify it by rejecting a second-year raise until state revenue improved. It was a fair point to raise given the economic collapse, but would have required reopening a settled contract that covers 11 labor unions and some 50,000 employees.
Senate Republicans' defeat on that point is a bitter pill for them. But given the crisis, it should not be allowed to, in Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka's recent tweet, "chill" cooperation with the governor.
We are not yet through the first wave of this pandemic. More than 800 lives have been lost in Minnesota, and 700,000 have filed unemployment claims since March 16. A previously thriving economy has been crippled.
It's hard to rise above differences. But the times demand it. Minnesotans need the governor and members of both parties in the House and Senate to work together and forge a new path for the state. Agreeing on a time and strong agenda for a special session is a good next step.