‘Bulls---': Minnesota lawmakers break off budget talks, accusations fly

Gov. Tim Walz and legislative leaders promised to handle budget negotiations differently in 2019.

It hasn’t worked.

“Bulls---,” House Speaker Melissa Hortman told reporters, when asked about Senate Republicans’ accusation that House Democrats hadn’t budged on their proposed tax increases. “We put a substantial move on the table, and the Senate put nothing on the table in response.”

Lawmakers abruptly broke off discussions late Monday night, missing a self-imposed deadline to come up with spending targets that are key to finishing the budget by the end of session on May 20. By Tuesday afternoon, all hopes of a quick deal had been dashed, with the impasse likely stretching into the weekend.

House Democrats said Senate Republicans merely rearranged the deck chairs on their proposed budget cuts without agreeing to any additional spending. Republicans said Democrats were unwilling to roll back billions of dollars in proposed tax increases.

Hortman said Walz was the first to make a move around 9 p.m. Monday, proposing to cut $200 million in spending from his initial $49.5 billion budget. House and Senate leaders broke to discuss the offer.

When they returned, House leaders agreed to align themselves with Walz’s proposal – reflecting a $664 million cut from the House’s initial spending plan – if the Senate would come up $332 million, Hortman said. 

Senate Republicans recall it differently. Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said Democrats were unwilling to drop any of their proposed tax increases in negotiations.

“Serious negotiations can continue when St. Paul Democrats realize we can’t keep taxing people out of independence and prosperity by promising them a public program to help them instead,” Gazelka said in an emailed statement.

The delay makes it increasingly likely that a deal will happen in the waning moments of the legislative session – or worse, lawmakers will need a special session or there will be a government shutdown.

The tone is far different than the one from 24 hours earlier, when Walz stressed the “cordialness” in the negotiations and Hortman said she was “very hopeful.”

“I would say that began to degrade around 10:30 (p.m.), which is why I thought it was time to stop talking for the evening,” Hortman said Tuesday morning.

Gazelka, Hortman and Walz got back together around 3:15 p.m. Tuesday in the governor’s first floor office, but emerged soon after with no deal.

“I think they would prefer that we make the next offer. We’re hoping that they make the next offer,” Gazelka said.

Hortman, who spoke to reporters after Gazelka, picked up on the theme.

“If (Senate Republicans) have a real counteroffer, we can pick up negotiations again. But until there’s a real counteroffer, there’s nothing to talk about,” she said.

No negotiations are scheduled between the three sides until Sunday evening, the leaders said.