Minnesota Budget Deals Remain Elusive Near End Of Session

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota lawmaker couldn’t find common ground on several budget bills Friday as the end of their legislative season rapidly approached.

Democratic House Speaker Melissa Hortman, of Brooklyn Park, said tax committee chairs have made “fantastic progress” on a $4 billon tax relief bill, echoing Republican Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller’s comments Thursday that a deal on the package was close.

But sticking points between Senate Republican and House Democratic committee chairs in most other areas — including health and human services, education and public safety — have forced leaders to get involved to try to hammer out agreements before an 11:59 p.m. deadline on Sunday.

“They have to get realistic,” Hortman told reporters. “Everybody has to kind of cut to the chase and understand that compromise means some ideas from both sides are in the final agreement.”

Democratic Gov. Tim Walz and top legislators agreed on targets for how to divide up the state’s $9.25 billion budget surplus earlier this week, with $4 billion for tax relief, $4 billion in spending and another $4 billion to be left in reserve.

The spending portion includes $1 billion each for education, and health and human services, and $450 million for public safety.

An $18.4 million drought relief package came together Friday that includes $8.1 million in grants for livestock farmers and specialty crop producers, in addition to $5.3 million to the Department of Natural Resources for tree replacement on state-managed lands. Funding proposed by House Democrats for tree replacement grants for local and tribal governments, as well as for equipment for using water more efficiently and to help sustain trees that are already planted, was left out of the final bill.

Hortman said the rural broadband conference committee made significant progress on its $50 million package, while lawmakers also wrapped up a $15 million in supplemental spending for agriculture.

Even though the tax bill was the closest of the big bills to being finished, Hortman said the legislation — which needs to pass the House before it goes to the Senate — will be used as leverage to ensure all of the other bills get done first before it is brought to the floor.

Democratic Senate Minority Leader Melisa López Franzen, of Edina, said she hopes the impasses can be resolved, and that she expects lawmakers to remain at the Capitol until the deadline to get their work done.

“We are going to be here all weekend,” she said. “Things are still fluid but we’re expecting to be on the floor today, tomorrow and Sunday until 11:59, until we can pass all the bills.”

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Mohamed Ibrahim is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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