Minnesota lawmakers move hush-hush budget in rushed special session

Update: The Special Session has adjourned, with the House and Senate passing the budget bills. 

Minnesota lawmakers appeared to be nearing a deal late Friday to pass the long-delayed state budget overnight, funding state agencies and avoiding a government shutdown.

House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler was hopeful to end a budget-writing special session by 7 a.m., a spokeswoman for House Democrats said. House Republicans had vowed to make the overtime period last at least two more days, complaining that lawmakers would not be able to read the bills before voting on them overnight.

Republicans would not say late Friday what they were getting in exchange for ending their threat.

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.

“We’re going to keep going until we’re done,” House Speaker Melissa Hortman told reporters Friday morning. “The people of the state of Minnesota deserve a budget. We have a constitutional obligation to complete that work.”

Lawmakers already failed to get their work done by the end of the regular session on Monday. The Minnesota government will shut down July 1 if lawmakers don’t reach a deal.

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.