Minnesota governor, lawmakers point fingers after session fizzles

Minnesota's governor and top lawmakers pointed fingers Monday after the 2020 legislative fizzled at the end, putting pieces of the state's coronavirus response in limbo.

Lawmakers failed to approve funding for job-creating construction projects and did not address the economic fallout from the pandemic. Partisan divisions led to confusion over whether nearly 50,000 state workers would get pay raises -- or pay cuts -- come July.

Now, lawmakers have circled June 12 as the start date for a likely special session and a second chance at major pieces of legislation. If Gov. Tim Walz decides to extend his peacetime emergency powers beyond that date, he'll have to call lawmakers back to St. Paul.

"The 2020 session will really be remembered as the pandemic session," House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, told reporters Monday morning. "The pandemic kind of reached in and grabbed the heart of the legislative session out."

The unity and goodwill of March evaporated as House Republicans refused to move forward on a bonding bill while the state is under a peacetime emergency. That effectively blocked a $2 billion infrastructure borrowing package from gaining the needed support in the House on Saturday.

A day later, Democrats rejected a $998 million bonding bill in the Senate after a last-minute intervention from Walz.

"I went out and made the case of why (Senate Democrats) shouldn't vote for them, and they didn't, because it's not a good bill," Walz told reporters.

Walz said it was "a shame" that a construction bill didn't pass when more than 600,000 Minnesotans are out of work. The governor, Hortman, and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said they would keep negotiating.

Gazelka said he and Hortman had agreed on a bonding package between $1.1 billion and $1.3 billion, but hadn't gotten support from the two minority caucuses.

GOP leaders failed to gain more oversight on the Walz administration's antivirus efforts, meaning the governor will continue with broad powers for at least three more weeks until the June 12 expiration of his emergency powers.

Confusion over state worker contracts

Pay raises for nearly 50,000 state workers remained in limbo Monday after dueling ratification votes in the House and Senate over the past week.

The House ratified the contracts, but the Senate only did so after stripping out the 2.5 percent pay raises planned for July. Senate Republicans say the state can no longer afford the contracts, which were negotiated last year. Without a deal, workers faced the possibility of having 2019's raises wiped out, too.

But by voting to approve the contracts at all, the Senate may have inadvertently ratified them.

Myron Frans, the state's budget commissioner, said state law doesn't allow the House or Senate to modify employee contracts -- only to vote yes or no. Frans said the administration was doing a legal review and planned to have an answer within a day or two.

"The action taken by the Senate is not contemplated (by the law)," Frans told reporters. "We've been working really nonstop since that action was taken."

Gazelka said it would be an "overreach" if the administration recognized the contracts, given the intent of the Senate vote.

"We didn't agree on what they should be," said Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake. "There are people who say they're just ratified now. But to me, that's silly."