Minnesota House, Senate pass budget bill, ending special session

The Minnesota House and Senate both passed the $48 billion budget bill, ending the special session just before the 7 a.m. Saturday deadline. The bills now head to Gov. Walz' desk.

Notably, a Health and Human Services bill was approved without the much talked about emergency insulin or Tobacco 21.

Gov. Tim Walz called a single-day special session for Friday with the support of the two highest-ranking lawmakers, but without an agreement from the House and Senate minority leaders. Lawmakers had to suspend rules that required three days of consideration before bills can pass.

"Minnesotans asked us to pass a budget that really valued education, to provide world-class schools for every child in the state, more affordable and accessible healthcare; this budget preserves healthcare for more than a million Minnesotans. That is a substantial accomplishment that was the primary task of this session," House Speaker Melissa Hortman said.

Busy Friday

After lawmakers gaveled in for their special session at 10 a.m. Friday, the work was slow-going. Both chambers took multiple breaks for caucus meetings, with the House recessing for four hours at one point and the Senate leaving for seven hours.

By 11:30 p.m., just three of the 14 special session bills had been passed and were headed to Walz’s desk. Among them: the transportation bill, which includes no gas tax increase or registration fee hikes.

Democrats had sought increases in taxes and fees to fund road improvements.

“Unfortunately this bill falls far short of meeting those needs,” said state Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, chairman of the House Transportation committee. “Quite frankly, it’s very disappointing.”

Republicans, despite being in the minority in the House, appeared more pleased with the final transportation deal.

“I can find not a single provision that any member on this side of the aisle should be objecting to and I recommend an enthusiastic green vote,” said state Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington.

Two other smaller funding bills passed both chambers earlier in the day. 

The desire to pass all the bills overnight may have a political explanation: The deals were largely negotiated in secret between Walz, Hortman and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka over the past two weeks, and lawmakers and interest groups on both sides have complained about a long list of priorities that fell by the wayside. Some, including Gazelka, have raised concerns about springing lawmakers back to their home districts for a long weekend, where they’ll hear from concerned constituents and angry donors.

And Walz, a first-term governor who spent the past several years in Congress, is aware of the optics of Minnesota taking on characteristics of Washington-style dysfunction. 

Many budget deals came together Wednesday and Thursday, when many agreements became public. But the most complicated budget bill of all, health and human services, was still being written Friday morning and wasn’t available to lawmakers, Daudt said.

The Senate’s top Democrat, state Sen. Tom Bakk, raised similar concerns Thursday but appeared more willing Friday to move the special session along quickly.

Statement from Gov. Tim Walz

“This budget will improve the lives of Minnesotans in every corner of the state and I look forward to signing it into law in the coming days,” said Governor Walz. “We set out to make investments in education, health care, and community prosperity and that’s exactly what we achieved. Minnesota is showing the rest of the nation that Republicans and Democrats can still find compromise and work together to get things done.”

Statement from Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka

“Ultimately, our budget did what we all agreed was best for Minnesotans. We held the line on raising new taxes and kept spending focused on priorities. For the first time in nearly 20 years, Minnesotans are getting a tax cut. Plus, we passed reforms to lower costs in Health and Human Services, more funding for students and for roads, and had bipartisan agreements on hands-free driving, a MNLARS fix, elder care protections, and an opioids crisis response. Minnesotans can be proud of the work we accomplished in 2019.”