It's 'go time' for Minnesota lawmakers. So, will anything happen?

The Minnesota Legislature returned Tuesday from its spring break with less than five weeks to strike deals on billions of dollars in available money.

Minnesota has a $9.3 billion projected surplus and another $1.1 billion in federal COVID-19 relief. Lawmakers so far have used $700 million to extend a program that buys down health insurance premiums and another $25 million for ALS research and caregivers.

There's no requirement the Legislature spends any money because it's not a budget year, meaning no government shutdown looms as a worst-case scenario. Lawmakers who expect their side to win the November election may have little incentive to compromise in divided government, because they could gain more control in 2023.

Against that backdrop, numerous issues remain in limbo.

Rebate checks and tax relief

Gov. Tim Walz, Senate Republicans and the DFL-led House have all proposed giving part of the surplus to Minnesotans, but their plans have experienced more partisan politicking than progress.

Republicans who control the Senate have proposed cutting the state's bottom income tax rate -- which all filers pay on at least a portion of their income -- nearly in half. Walz has proposed direct payments of $500 per adult, which he says revenue officials could send out by summer.

The House's tax proposal includes a $325 rebate per child under the age of 17. Parents with children less than 5 years old would also qualify for an expanded dependent care tax credit, which would increase to $3,000 per year under the House plan. Currently, the maximum credit is $1,050.

Housing relief

Minnesota lawmakers broadly agree that they'll need to help renters and homeowners with rising housing costs, but they're divided over the size and scope of how to spend.

House Democrats have proposed spending $230 million within one year and $415 million over the next three years to encourage homeownership, while the Republican Senate has offered $50 million in new spending.

Housing activists rallied in front of the state Capitol on Tuesday for a larger piece of the surplus pie, and said they were disappointed that neither spending plan includes rent vouchers to help with inflation costs.

"I’m frustrated and angry that our state isn’t seizing the historic moment for housing," said Ben Helvick Anderson of the advocacy group Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative.

K-12 education

House Democrats have proposed spending $1.2 billion more next year on K-12 schools, while the Senate GOP has included just $30.7 million for a new literacy initiative.

The GOP proposal drew criticism from the state education commissioner, Heather Mueller, who on Tuesday said it "simply comes up too short for the moment we're in." Senate Education Committee Chairman Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, countered that literacy is the most important thing for lawmakers to focus on.

K-12 is far from the only issue where there's a gulf in the spending proposals. Senate Republicans have reserved $3.4 billion of their $7.1 billion in proposals for their income tax cut, while House Democrats have held back a smaller $1.6 billion of their $7.4 billion in spending for tax credits.

Public safety

One area where the parties are aligned on the dollar figures is public safety, where the House has proposed $200 million, while the Senate has $204 million. But the details of the two plans could not be more different.

House Democrats' plan includes $55 million in community innovation grants, for which only non-police efforts are eligible. The DFL also has $15 million for community policing, $15 million for body cameras, and $10 million in grants for mental health responders to be paired with law enforcement.

Senate Republicans' proposal calls for no funding of nonprofit violence interrupter groups, and Senate Judiciary Chairman Warren Limmer described the groups this month as "people we don't know can do the job." Instead, the GOP is seeking $70 million for police officer hiring and retention bonuses.